Reflections on the Future

At the end of the year we often look backwards at what we accomplished. When you go onto Facebook you can see that, for many people, late December is a time for looking back on the year that was, recapping the great and not-so-great times that will define the year.

For leaders, this kind of reflection is important, not only for ourselves but for our employees. The most obvious example of this is the dreaded performance review (which should not be dreaded if done right). At some point we need to look back at the goals we set for our employees and determine if they met them or not. That sets the stage for the goals we set for their future.

The same goes for us individually. It helps to look back at the goals we set for ourselves, the standards we established for the job we do, and decide if we lived up to all that. If so, fantastic. If not, we need to look at where we fell short. This does not have to be something we publicize; in fact, it’s probably better if we don’t, to encourage a little more honesty in our reflecting.

As we look backwards, though, that cannot just be an end unto itself. Once you are done looking over your shoulder, turn your head to the front again and see what lies ahead of you. Ask yourself where you want to be at this time next year. What challenges do you see coming up? What opportunities? Are you even close to doing what you want to be doing, or do you need to make a big shift? Or would a little minor tweaking suffice? Or for that matter, should you simply stay on your current course?

This kind of reflection may seem self-indulgent, and for leaders who are facing daily deadlines, or who are still in the mad swirl of the holiday season, it might seem like the time for this just does not exist. If that is the case, then make the time.

As leaders we have responsibilities that will only be met by taking the time for careful, honest thought about what we have done, what we are doing, and what we plan to do. We are responsible to the owners of the firm, be they shareholders, or our bosses, or even ourselves, for making this business as profitable as possible. We have a responsibility to our clients and customers, to provide them with the service or product for which they are paying. We have a responsibility to our employees, who are looking to us to create an environment in which their contributions will be meaningful. And, we should never forget, we have a responsibility to ourselves, to make sure we are enjoying our professional lives, in part by doing a good job in which we can take a lot of satisfaction, and in part by being honest with ourselves about what job we actually want to be doing in the first place.

You can do this reflection at any time, of course, and it does not have to be only on an annual basis, or only at this time of year. But since we often use this time of year as an opportunity for reflecting on what has come before, let’s give equal thought to what is yet to come.