How to Forget Like a Leader
Lousy leaders remember what they should forget and forget what they should remember.
The power of the past is the permission you give it to influence the present.
You expected someone to step up but they fell short.
- “They’re really good, but ….” (Insert negative experience.)
- “He gets things done. But Oh! The drama.”
- “She’s a nitpicker.”
- “He drifts.”
- “She smiles, nods, and then does it her way.”
- “He always has to be right.”
- “She won’t act without permission.”
Lousy leaders weigh events and tag people with negatives. Bad is more memorable than good.
When someone persistently fails, after clear direction and equipping, they have the wrong responsibilities. Your ignorance of someone’s capacity combined with their sincere desire to do well are a bubbling fiasco.
Lousy leaders create anxiety and doubt when they circle a negative past.
5 ways to forget:
- Don’t try to forget. Active forgetting is recall. The more you try to forget something, the more you establish the memory.
- Overcome the magnetism of fixing people. The pursuit of excellence is pressing forward while forgiving the past.
- Reassign people. Patterns of failure in sincere people are about competence. They’re doing the wrong things.
- Don’t use patterns of failure to motivate. “You always screw this up,” doesn’t inspire.
- Judge people by what they could do, not what they didn’t – their future, not their past.
5 things to remember:
- Lessons learned. In your one-on-ones, ask people what they’re learning.
- Commitments made. Clarify what matters.
- Strengths exercised. “You’re at your best when ….”
- Desired outcomes. The end is near when memories overshadow dreams.
- Hard work, even if results disappointed.
Leaders never succeed by magnifying, fixing, or rejecting the past.
Successful leaders make the past a platform, not an anchor.
How might leaders remember things that propel teams/people into the future, not the past?
Love your “tag people with negatives” term.. Leading is uncovering, and calling out potentials (in others) and that is forward looking. the lessons of the past have a place in moving forward . like planning a route “I was through there a year ago, if its still under construction I need to allow time, or consider a alternate..” Understanding the past sharpens our forward focus, and improves the effectiveness in moving forward.
Thanks Ken. Love how you put the past in a useful perspective. The past isn’t an enemy unless we are unaware of it’s influence. (Which happens far too often.)
What do they say, Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.
Good post. I would like to hear more later perhaps about “the more you try to forget something, the more you establish the memory” as I had never really given serious thought about the technique of accomplishing this dilemma and avoid this potential memory-marker. We teach to learn from our mistakes, but don’t dwell on them. Thanks!
Thanks SGT. “We teach to learn from our mistakes, but don’t dwell on them.” Love that approach. The main benefit of the past is learning.
You may see a post in the future about forgetting. Who knows? In the end, healthy remembering is choosing responses to our past that serve us/others well.
The only way to forget pink elephants is think of white.
This really spoke to me. I have an excellent memory for small details and other trivia, so falling into the category of being the 7 things Lousy Leaders say, though I am trying to escape that. I’m so glad I have some practical advice to work through now!
Forgetting doesn’t mean the memory has been erased (that would be foolish and eliminate the possiblity of learning from failure.). Rather, forgetting means (in a relational context), that you’ve deliberately forsaken the right to act on the other’s failure or (in a leadership context), that you will not mention the other’s failure.
But you will remember so that you can learn how to be more effective in providing useful leadership behaviors.
“Don’t try to forget. Active forgetting is recall. The more you try to forget something, the more you establish the memory.” This is so true and profound. I probably never would have acknowledged it without reading it.
What I truly like about this article is the emphasis on not labeling your employee, but rather taking stock of strengths and weaknesses and moving it forward. Isn’t this what we, as social workers, do when we work with a client? This advice fits nicely into a person-centered, strength-based approach to not only leadership but effective supervision, as well. I also agree with the comment above. I think we also tend to remember the “ugly” moments versus the “heroic” or positive ones when people put forth their best efforts, and it doesn’t always work out. Appreciate this creative approach to leading.
Great insights. It is not enough just to listen to your inner voice, leaders need to be able to allow others to listen to their own voices into the future.
I am a leadership coach and this is definitely advice I will pass to all of my clients. The importance of really listening to understand the past coupled with positive problem solving is invaluable.
Thank you for this article!