As a child, my front yard was the venue for many high stakes kickball games. Right field was the best opportunity for a home run. Kick it over the neighbor’s fence and you could take a victory lap around the bases. Left field was a different story. A long shot into left meant an automatic double because the ball would land in the street. Leftfielders were trained to pause before chasing the ball and “look both ways” before entering the street. In my childhood kickball game, “both ways” included a glance to the left and a glance to the right. But there are other options that provide a useful leadership application. Instead of looking to the left and right, it’s important for you to look back and then look forward. Here are some guidelines that will allow you to glean the most benefit from the view.
First, before you look back, a word of caution is in order. It’s very tempting to get stuck in the past. Nothing threatens positive change like an unhealthy view of yesterday. The past contains many treasures that will benefit you on your journey into the future. You have to choose to avoid the emotional quagmire of obsessing over your inability to change the past. In order to benefit from previous experiences you must be willing to plunder the treasures without getting trapped in the mine. You must look back with a clear purpose in mind. Set a time limit for reflection and write down what you discover. Journaling your thoughts is a great way to refine your thinking.
When you look back, try to begin with purposeful reflection rather than indulgent reminiscence. Thoughtful reflection requires a clear purpose. Reminiscence can become distorted with nostalgia. For example, before you initiate a significant change, reflect on previous personal and organizational experiences. You goal is to be as objective as possible. Revisit wins and losses, successes and failures. Navigate those experiences carefully. Don’t let your emotions, whether high or low, impede your mission. Emerge from your reflection with lessons learned that will become a catalyst for future action. Begin with a few guiding questions in order to maintain your focus.
When it’s time to look forward, gather the information you have gleaned from the past and equip yourself with the best possible perspective. An understanding of the patterns and processes of your life will enhance your self-awareness and reduce blind spots that can threaten your effectiveness. When you look ahead, the greatest threat is never uncertainty. The greatest threat is your fear of uncertainty. Prepare for tomorrow by learning from yesterday. Your past does not define you. However, it should inform you. After investing some time in thoughtful reflection, you will discover greater confidence and clarity. You’re ready to look forward.