Embracing Strategic Forgetfulness: A Fresh Leadership Perspective

What if you woke up each morning with the attitude that “today is an empty canvas to paint my life upon?”

The prophet Isaiah painted a word picture of what God would do for the Jewish exiles, inspiring them to see their future with new eyes. “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”

The reality is almost half of us struggle to let go of past failure, success, or the future in ways that free us to embrace the possibilities of this moment, this new day.

Psychologists at Harvard University collected information on the daily activities, thoughts and feelings of 2,250 volunteers to find out how often they were focused on what they were doing, and what made them happiest. They found that people spend nearly half their time (46.7%) thinking about something other than what they are actually doing.  Findings showed that subjects’ minds wandering nearly half of the time making them consistently less happy. The team concluded that reminiscing, thinking ahead or daydreaming tends to make people more miserable, even when they are thinking about something pleasant.

How does expectation, anticipation, hope, risk-taking, optimism, or wonder impact your ability to be present in your life and in your work?  How much does being present factor into a fresh and healthy leadership perspective, enabling you to tackle the challenges in front of you?

How to Strategically Forget: 

1. Fire Yourself from Your “Job”

As a company grows, and more clients, revenues, and employees are gained, a “Leader’s” job requirements dramatically change. No matter what roles you are performing today, they are not the ones you will be doing 3 months to a year from now. If you don’t realize this yourself, your organization will make you painfully, painfully aware of it.  “My biggest regret during the ten years after founding Gap Intelligence is that I waited too long to fire myself,” The Lean Startup, Eric Ries.

Of course, if you believe you are employable, with a new perspective as a leader, then you have the option of hiring yourself again as a “new” employee.

2. Practice the Daily Discipline of Questing

Dr. Greg Robinson has stated, “One of the best contexts for discovery is experiential learning.  This is a type of learning that requires action, reflection, and an undetermined result.  Questing is not only about the path you take but how you will travel along that path. 

Questing in a workplace means embracing every moment of each new day as an adventure to be traveled.  The daily essentials to successfully navigating this adventure include: humor, imagination, empathy, vision, optimism, reflection, and servant leadership.

3. Invest in a Pilgrimage

Someone once said, “pilgrimage is a way of praying on your feet.”  A pilgrimage is a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance. You go on a pilgrimage because you know there’s something missing inside your soul, and the only way you can find it is to go to sacred places, places where God is revealed.  In sacred spaces, something is done to you that you’ve been unable to do for yourself.

Through pilgrimage one’s sense of identity begins to dissolve bringing about a sense of disorientation. This is called “liminality,” a period of transition where normal limits of thought, self-understanding, and behavior are relaxed – a space that opens the way for new perspectives. 

A pilgrimage doesn’t have to entail a 2 to 6-month hike on a trail to a holy site. It could be a short journey. In my personal experience, a 3-day pilgrimage involved my returning to the community where I went to grad school. This included visiting with professors and people I worked with.  I came away with a sense of gratitude and a fresh perspective on how my work and calling are unfolding in life-giving, if not unexpected, ways.

Perhaps forgetfulness, though seldom, if ever considered an attribute of effective leadership, is just what is needed. When practiced strategically, it directs us toward what is most important while keeping our souls intact.