Only look back if that is where you want to be.
Today’s Tuesday Reading, Don’t Look Back, is an essay by Scott Orr, Manager, Research and Infrastructure Computing, Dean’s Office, School of Science, Indiana University. The essay first appeared as a program reflection earlier this year.
Our last Indiana MOR Leaders Workshop focused on influencing others and communicating for impact. Like many others, I certainly saw this in my group's successes and failures in the exercises we did at the workshop. As I reflected on this, I was reminded of the power that a well-timed suggestion or comment can have. While it may often seem like nothing to the recipient, it may set or alter entire paths of behavior.
Growing up, I was the proverbial "last one chosen" type of kid. Certainly, I was one of the smallest in every class with barely an athletic bone in my body. Despite this, something possessed me to go out for cross-country team in junior high school. As expected, I could easily have been listed in the "and also ran" category. It didn't bother me. I enjoyed just being out there. In my freshman year, my coach pulled me to the side just before the start of a race early into the season. He looked me in the eye and with a slight smile said, "You know Scott, you run with these guys every day in practice. Why don't you see if you can stick with them today." I had my doubts but determined to give it a shot. That day I became the top runner on our freshman team. In response to a gentle suggestion to take a chance and get out of my comfort zone, I took a leap of faith I may never have taken otherwise.
Interestingly enough, the next time I remember anything like this happening to me also followed a conversation with a coach. It was four years later. I was offered an opportunity to compete for a NCAA Division III team in college. After some early success in that track season, the wheels seemed to have fallen off. A couple of bad races had my confidence sagging. My coach was a man of very few words and rarely offered them in situations like mine. I was at a loss so decided to drop by his office. Maybe he had an answer. The conversation was short and sweet. Essentially everything was fine. I shouldn't worry about it. A day or two later, he placed a hand written note in my campus mailbox. It read, "Don't look back. Only look back if that is where you want to be." I spent a lot of time thinking about that. He was right and I just set my sights on the next race. Two weeks later I was a conference champion. A simple note, when I needed it the most, had made all the difference.
I have tried to remember this lesson when working with others, especially with student interns. It is a reason I have always tried to really get to know everyone who has worked for or with me. You never know what opportunity to make a significant difference will come around or even realize it when it does. A well-timed comment can be a delicate and sharp instrument, which can cut both ways. I am sure many of you have at some time experienced the negative cuts but it is the positive ones we remember the most.
Perhaps there is someone on your team who needs a gentle reminder from you about where the action is. Take time this week to think about each member of your team and the word of encouragement that they need to hear from you. You and your team will be the better for it.
Make the week a great one for you and your team. And, "Don't look back. You're not going there." . . . jim
Jim Bruce is a Senior Fellow and Executive Coach at MOR Associates, and Professor of Electrical Engineering, Emeritus, and CIO, Emeritus, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.