The past as a platform not an anchor

Today I’m expanding one of the points from my article, “Adjusting Course.”

Every course adjustment says the present isn’t satisfactory. Sadly, leaders use past short comings or failures to motivate others to change.

Looking to past failures provides painful motivation to initiate change but it won’t sustain transition.

Four ways to celebrate the past, rather than demonizing it.

Reaching higher means the past wasn’t enough. However, don’t let past shortfalls obscure past achievements. Celebrate the past by remembering past successes. During transition, establish a celebration team. Make it their job to dig up stories about past employees, projects, and achievements. It’s better to honor rather than belittle past contributions of staff or volunteers.

You’re changing because you aren’t where you want to be.  However, you aren’t where you were either (assuming you’ve made some progress). Celebrate the past by highlighting progress. During transition make time to highlight enhanced skills, streamlined processes, or simplified procedures.

Celebrate the past by focusing on lessons learned. For example, don’t say we failed at gaining new customers. Say, we’ve learned our current methods of phone sales aren’t effective. Learning what doesn’t work is valuable.

Celebrate the past by recalling examples of competence. I’ll never forget the day I heard a leader say, “I’m worried you won’t achieve your goal.” The room deflated. On the other hand, wise leaders inflate others by saying things like, “I remember when everyone stepped up to solved our technology bottleneck. I’m counting on that kind of dedication.” Leaders instill confidence by recognizing competence.

The past is an anchor when it limits potential. However, wise leaders use the past as a platform for progress by celebrating past successes, highlighting progress, leveraging lessons learned and focusing on competence.


Have you seen the past used as a whipping post? Can you think of other ways leaders can celebrate the past while moving forward?


Leadership Freak

Dan Rockwell