How Good is Your Memory?
As the saying goes… “I’m not getting any younger.” Those of us who have reached middle age, or passed it, tend to use this phrase or ones like it to help ourselves accept some of “the realities” of aging. Complaints about memory typically top the list along with endurance and energy.
Let’s turn this memory idea on its head. Sometimes not having a good memory IS an advantage.
Here’s an example from basketball. Charles Barkley, one of my basketball heroes once described the difference between a good player and a great player using memory. According to Charles, the great player has a poor memory.
Here’s the logic: When the good player plays a poor game (low points, errors, turnovers, etc.) he typically plays poorly for the next game or two before he hits his stride again. When a great player plays a poor game, he forgets about it and hits his stride again in the very next game. He has a poor memory of his weak performance and a rapid recovery rate to greatness.
What does this have to do with business and organizational development? Well, as leaders we have “poor games” from time to time too. Studies have shown that one of the predictors of successful leaders is their willingness to make decisions. Even when the decisions they make are bad decisions, managers who are prone to take action and make decisions are statistically more successful than those who tend to wait and make fewer decisions.
Get Better at Forgetting
It is important to feel pain when we make poor decision and mistakes, but it is also important to quickly let go and “forget” the emotion while remembering the facts and circumstances and capturing the lesson.
Leaders who have too good of a memory of all of the things that went wrong and hold on to all of the pain that resulted from it have the likelihood of becoming slow to react. They may find themselves bulwarking against phantom scenarios based on past unpleasant emotions rather than responding to the specific situation and circumstances in front of them in the present moment.
A corollary of this principle is to avoid getting caught up spending too much time focusing on and criticizing what is going wrong. Instead, once we identify what is going wrong we would be better served to focus on moving to action in the direction the organization needs to go.
The formula is actually quite simple—Take Action, Learn (the lesson), Forget (the unpleasant emotion), Take Action.
Admittedly, whether you are developing yourself or developing others each of these steps requires a significant investment in time, money, and energy. We can’t develop courage, self-awareness, active listening, humility, flexibility, tenacity, and (add your favorite leadership characteristics here) overnight.
The payoff is in the emergence of the “great” leader who makes good decisions and recovers from bad ones rapidly.
I agree with Charles Barkley. In this arena, we’d be better served with a shorter memory and an eagerness for action.