In the last few years I have seen a lot of success and a lot of failure in the companies I've worked with. I have witnessed many good decisions and many poor decisions. In that light, what has been interesting for me personally is reflecting on how much our past unsuspectingly affects our everyday decision-making and opinions.
How often, as leaders of organizations who make critical decisions daily, are we more than just informed by the past but actually burdened by it? There are so many influences that impact our opinions and reactions: our family upbringing, religion, language and culture, education, justifications for past decisions, past embarrassments, our current peer group, pop culture, associations, mentors, etc. Without even being conscious of it, we react to daily events based on all these and many more influences.
I hear you saying, "So what's the big deal? This is life experience. This is maturity. Of course it influences us."
The deal is that sometimes, if we don't pay attention to how we make decisions or why we form opinions, we can be victim to our past and subconsciously justify preconceived notions. This closes our ability to adapt and move forward in a way we would like to.
A President I've worked with was a solo entrepreneur for many years as well as a successful solo endurance athlete. His whole life he has pushed himself to new heights. In his attempt to transition into a CEO of a mid-sized company from a solo entrepreneur, he has had difficulty letting go of his past patterns of success that led him to where he is today, but is at fundamental odds with how he needs his company to grow. This President is unknowingly handcuffed by his past success.
Not everybody has been an endurance athlete and attacks the world with the same formula of success. Yes this President has had a hard time letting go and letting others who think differently, do the work and make the decisions. He has also been quick to seek evidence of 'doing it wrong' when things are done differently by other people. Having been so used to solo success, he has also been slow to build a team and hire people who are more specialized and 'smarter' than him.
Although this President has desired to grow a company and understands that he must develop a competent team, his trained response to dealing with difficult times has been to 'suck it up and get it done on his own' rather than mentoring and nurturing his team to learn and grow. The very winning formula that led to all his former glory are now killing his attempt to build a winning company. Past patterns of success will unwittingly lead to failure if he does not realize the error of his ways.
We cannot change the past. We all move in one direction. Knowing when we are carrying the past on our shoulders is the key to moving towards our goals most successfully.