There is an interesting phenomenon that happens when any executive leaves and organization’s leadership team. There is a tendency for the remaining leaders to engage in revisionist history. We all have a propensity for it, and you really have to resist, for it will likely be the easier way out of many situations. The reality is that all of the conditions, all of the data, all of the competing market forces, and every other internal and external drivers under which decisions were made only existed for that exact moment in time. It was only at that original decision point that you can really judge exactly why the choice was made. Very quickly after that, so many things shift and change in any complex organization that it quickly becomes impossible for anyone else to render judgement accurately.
Executive leaders face tremendous pressures to perform and deliver. One of the most severe pressures to be put on a team are the expectations of new owners or bosses. Once that occurs, in an incredibly competitive and many times unforgiving business world, even people of the highest levels of integrity can fold to the pressure. Being challenged, in a moment of weakness, behind closed doors, they will recast past decisions to make themselves look better. They may simply withhold some of the historical facts, or they may fabricate an entirely new story that without some of the original executive team, will be now taken as an accurate accounting. Candidly, that is part of the self-preservation strategy that is played at the executive level. Although it is not honorable and happens far too regularly, it is understandable and marginally excusable. It is part of what you sign up for as an executive, and executives have their fair share of fear, insecurity and paranoia.
What is typically more difficult to do is simply assess any situation you may be involved in, and make your leadership decisions based on everything that is available at that moment. While throwing past or current associates “under the bus” may create a momentary ego boost, it will likely be fleeting, and in the long run, damaging to the organization. That type of disrespectful approach will quickly erode your credibility inside an organization and undermine your ability to lead it. So when the temptation strikes, remind yourself to redirect that energy towards charting a course towards a solution. It is absolutely a more difficult hill to climb, but after all, isn’t that what a leader is supposed to do?
While this may all sound a bit preachy and judgmental, I am including myself in this debate. In the past, I have undeniably engaged in re-writing history to a certain extent, but have always tried to catch myself and stop. I certainly have regrets about how I handled certain situations, but I believe I have learned from them and am now more forward facing. When I look in the mirror, I see a few tire tracks across my own back, but I know that it simply goes with the territory. To those driving the bus, I completely understand, but offer you may be better served to look where you are going. I know that while we can always learn from the past, it is really the future that demands all our focus and energy. As leaders of any organization, if you aren’t facing forward and charting the correct course, who is?