How Three Time Filters Impact Leadership

Your view of time impacts relationships and decisions.

Time is a way of seeing.

Some leaders make decisions with the past in mind, others focus on the present. Still others, perhaps the most dangerous, make decisions with the future in mind.

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Three time filters:

#1 Past thinking leaders:

Some leaders lean toward history when making decisions. They think about how things were. They ask,

  1. What happened?
  2. What went wrong?
  3. How can we protect gains?

These leaders need certainty to try new things. They admire people who don’t make waves.

Stability and systems are the benefits past thinking leaders bring to organizations.

#2. Present thinking leaders:

Some leaders focus on the present when making decisions. They’re practical thinkers. I’m not thinking of people who live for the moment. Present thinking leaders live in the moment. They ask,

  1. What’s happening now?
  2. What needs to be done?
  3. What resources do we currently have?

These leaders neglect the future because of present responsibility. They admire discipline in others and judge people by how well they complete tasks.

Consistency and reliability are the benefits present thinking leaders bring to organizations.

#3. Future thinking leaders:

Some leaders look into the future when choosing what to do. They love new ideas and creative thinking. They ask:

  1. What could be?
  2. Who might people become?
  3. Who cares about resources? Let’s get going..

These leaders are ping-pong balls bouncing from one thing to the next. They despise repetition.

Disruption is a future thinking leader’s contribution to organizational life.


There was a time when I judged leaders who had different time orientations from mine. Now I seek and respect their perspectives.

Tensions between leaders are often rooted in differences in their time orientation. Effective decisions answer key concerns of past, present, and future orientations.

You’re better when your view of time is broader.

How do time filters impact your leadership?

How do time filters impact relationships in organizations?

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