Five Secrets to Escaping the Past

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Your job is moving people into the future not recreating the past. Tensions emerge when leaders pull toward the future and followers cling to the past.

Clinging to the past is losing your future.


People cling to the past because they:

  1. Don’t feel heard. People who consistently bring up past situations are saying, “Please listen to me.”
  2. Need validation. People who don’t feel heard feel put down. Validated people courageously move forward. Everyone else waits for validation.
  3. Fear the future. Even if it’s painful, the certain past is more comfortable than an uncertain future.
  4. They aren’t convinced your plan for the future is actually better.


Help people reach for the future by:

  1. Establishing certainty based on people first and plans second. Do people trust your leadership? If not, forget reaching for the future. The future is always about people. Do people respect the team and each other?
  2. Listening rather than arguing or solving concerns about the past and future. Say, “I hear you,” without saying, “But.” No one listens to you until they feel you’ve listened to them.
  3. Validating the perceptions and concerns you hear. Say, “Tell me your concerns,” and then ask, “What’s important about that?” Leaders who reject the concerns of others create adversarial relationships. Ask the second question.
  4. Engage people in creating the plan. People don’t doubt the plan they create. They doubt yours. If you expect people to be engaged, engage them.
  5. Learning from failure. Your responses to past failures establish boldness or caution. Did you correct the past or focus on the future when failure occurred? Correcting the past puts people down. Ask, “What did we learn,” or, “Who will we adapt next time?”

How can leaders help followers escape the past?

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