When Leaders Must Confront “There Was a Day” Thinking…

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“We may be small now, but there was a day…”

“We may not have a lot of impact now, but there was a day…”

“We may be struggling now, but there was a day…”

When a leader begins to make these kinds of wistful, nostalgic reflections it’s a warning sign that vision has been replaced by a memory.

It’s often a sign that leadership is slipping into irrelevance.


The challenge for leaders is that accomplishments of the past are very often the “happy place” for people in the organization. People love to relive achievements of a former time and they’ll cling to these memories at the expense of grasping a new, forward-looking vision.

So how do you move people past their former glories and towards a fresh, exciting new vision?

Effective leaders handle this transition sensitively and masterfully.

Don’t blast the past

It can be frustrating for a forward-looking leader to have to deal with all of this nostalgia. But resist the temptation to cast aspersions on those former glories.

If you begin ridiculing or scoffing at earlier accomplishments you’ll only alienate those you need to bring forward with you.

Celebrate the values, not the accomplishments

Remind people of the important values that were represented in those former achievements.

A leader I knew couldn’t get his people to stop wallowing in the memory of how they had rallied to provide community aide during a natural disaster…15 years ago!

Wisely, he began to remind people that what was worth celebrating was not the activity itself, but the value of community impact it had represented.

Leverage this value to create forward energy

“We lived out that value before…It’s time to live it out again!”

That was the rallying cry my friend used to build a bridge between the former memory and the new vision.

He created discussion forums where people could openly share their own perspective on what an updated, relevant expression of that value might look like today and in the future.

The point is, effective leaders harness the energy of the memory to provide fuel for a new vision.

And when that happens, “There was a day…” will soon become “I have a dream!”

How have you confronted “There was a day” thinking in your leadership?

the author

Scott Cochrane

Lifelong learner, practitioner and coach of leadership, across more than 50 countries. Follower of Jesus, husband of Nora, grateful parent and grandparent.

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