You Can’t Lead Forward By Constantly Looking Back

Posted: May 20, 2013 in Leadership

Stop Looking BackToday’s post comes from what seems to be an unending series of life lessons learned from my dog, Callie.

A little background: Callie and I are very tight.  It’s a safe bet that if I’m home, she is never too many feet away from me.  If I go to a different room, she is there with me.  If I go outside, she has to be there.  Those times I must go out without her, leaving her at the front door to watch, result in her whining and getting upset.  You’d think the world was ending.  The return home is met with great excitement, even if the absence is just a few minutes.  Callie and I definitely love each other and enjoy each other’s company.  There is one thing, however, that Callie does multiple times a day that really annoys me.

When I start walking in some direction in the house, Callie will inevitably get in front of me and start going where she thinks I’m headed.  However, when she comes to a point where she has to make a choice between turning left or right or going up or down stairs, she stops right in front of me, getting in my way, waiting for me to make the direction known.  Then she takes off in that direction, frequently getting in my way if the journey consists of many such decision points.

I wish she could understand if I said to her, “This would work a lot better if you’d follow instead of trying to lead when you aren’t sure where I’m going.”  Callie might like to think at times that she is the leader of our little pack of two, but we both know she isn’t.  At critical decision points, she keeps looking back because the way forward isn’t clear to her.  I’m really the leader and she would do well to follow or at least stay by my side rather than walk in front of me.

As the above scene repeats itself numerous times daily, I regularly think of some applications to leadership:

  • In order to lead, you need to know where you’re going.  It does nobody any good to be in a position of leadership and still be unclear about the direction you are called upon to lead.  That doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that the leader solely makes the decision by himself/herself without input from or regard for others involved.
  • Every time you stop to look back, forward progress stops.  On the grand scale of looking back at one’s life or an organization’s history, there is value is pausing and reflecting on the journey.  Too much time dwelling in the past, however, contributes to a longing for the perceived “good old days” and steals precious time that can be given to moving onward and upward to new achievements.
  • Know who the leaders are.  In an ideal world, it is the people in actual positions of leadership who also provide a major portion of the leadership others look to and willingly follow on a daily basis.  The world and organizations within it, however, aren’t always ideal.  Sometimes the most influential leadership comes from people who don’t have a position of authority, but who have strong connections with others and who have earned the respect of those around them.  It’s nice when these informal and unofficial leaders are positive influences that contribute to the forward movement of the cause or organization.  It can be a source of great conflict when that isn’t the case.  Tough decisions may need to be made about who fills official leadership roles or how to deal with informal leaders acting contrary to the goals of the organization.

These are a few applications that come to mind as Callie and I repeat the scene daily of her trying to lead while constantly looking back at me for direction.  There may be others.  Can you think of some?

  1. indytony says:

    I think of the verse “Thy word is a lamp for my feet [to see where we are] and a light for my path [to see where we’re going].” No looking back.

  2. CrazyPanamanian says:

    I simile the whining when you are gone to those leaders that like to bark at you when you look desinterested or taking a break from the hard work. Making you feel like you don’t care enough about the job. But this is all farce to make you think they know better when in reality they need you to do your job because they don’t know how to.

    I have seen a few of those.

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