Good managers, like good horses, keep one ear pointed forward and one eye looking back.
I’ve been told that people tend to be on two extremes when utilizing their past. One faction focuses too much on the past and whatever negatives there may have been, and they blame their past for where they are today and where they are going. These folks end up putting way too much emphasis on the negative side of their past. The other faction totally ignores the past, saying it doesn’t matter and that one must just look ahead and charge on. That is how I have tended to be my whole life; I saw no value in looking back.
From a management perspective, it is important to find a happy medium between these two extremes. Looking back is not about assigning blame, nor should past failures be used as an excuse to not pursue great successes in the future. Conversely, if you don’t take time to evaluate past performances and the causes for the results you received, you are likely to repeat the mistakes or fail to replicate the good things that brought about success.
I’ve never been in therapy, but my understanding is that one important step is to really go back and look at your past, determine why you act the way you do so you can learn why you tend to respond in certain ways, and then correct the negative programming. Managers are tasked with the same responsibility, and I can say that while it may not be that the same mistake gets repeated, there are some mistakes that have the same root cause. Applying that personally, by looking back and analyzing some of these things, hopefully I can begin to eliminate the problems and multiply the successes.
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Conversely, I have a good friend who is the opposite. Where I tend to think looking back is a waste of time, he says the first thing he does is over analyze every mistake. And it’s not necessarily to make the future better, but rather to assign blame. He says his employees got to the point where they won’t do anything in fear of making a mistake, and that he is missing opportunities because his thought process is such that he focused on the past.
Looking back is a smart, productive process for a manager if it is done to honestly evaluate why you got the results you did in order to avoid repeating mistakes or to aid in replicating successes. I still struggle looking back, but in doing so I have learned to overcome some of my communication problems and tendencies that create problems for me. I will always want to focus on the future, but by taking a positive approach to analyzing the past, I think I will be better at capitalizing on the future.
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