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How Leaders are Made Wise and Why We Often Remain Foolish

“How often must I tell you that we are made wise not by the recollections of our past, but by the responsibilities of our future.” (Back to Methuselah, by George Bernard Shaw)

Any fool can reflect on the past. But leaders take responsibility for the future.

What you are doing today is more important than what happened to you yesterday.

Two reasons leaders remain fools:

#1. The good ole days

Don’t pine for the good ole days. Get busy creating the future.

Twenty years from now these will be the good ole days.

It feels like the world is getting worse, but it’s getting better.

  1. Average global life expectancy in 1950 was 52.57 years. In 2018 it was 72.56 years.
  2. Average global infant mortality rate per 1,000 births in 1950 was 64.5. In 2019 it was 28.2.
  3. Extreme poverty included 42.5% of the world’s population in 1981. In 2017 it was 9.2%.

Source: World bank

Foolish leaders don’t celebrate progress because we still have far to go.

#2. Past as judge

Selective memory promotes foolishness.

When you ask someone how much they are going to enjoy a current experience they often compare it to the best experience of the past.

Everything is disappointing and dissatisfying when compared to a glittering past.

Every team is disappointing when you compare it to the best team in your memory. The same is true for steaks, TV shows, and vacations.

It’s foolish to compare current team members to the ‘Michael Jordans’ of the past.

A past superstar is an example, not a whipping post.

Wisdom for leaders:

  1. Never complain about anything unless you’re ready to do something about it.
  2. Every time you feel like complaining, honor someone’s hard work.
  3. Always show up to make things better.

Wisdom has more to do with action than intelligence.

Responsibility for the future makes leaders wise.

What prevents leaders from taking responsibility for the future?

What does taking responsibility for the future look like to you?

Bonus material:

Ah, The Good Ol’ Days: 5 Reasons Why We Glamorize The Past (

Helping People Take Responsibility – Take Ownership of Your Work from Mind Tools

5 Elements of Responsible Leadership | Accenture

The Five Dimensions of Responsible Leadership | INSEAD Knowledge

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