Over years of consulting, I have realised that the best leaders I know, never talk about their previous companies, what they did or accomplished or what it was like to be there.
Similarly, the worst leaders I have come across (should I say, suffered?) never stopped talking about their track record and their usually alpha male/female saving the world for their previous employers. Which begs the question, why did they leave them? Oh! Silly me, they did in order to come and save this one now.
Years ago, I had to suffer a long dinner with a new CEO who spent the evening explaining the migration from 2.3 to 6.8 market share in Singapore, when he was in charge. A wonderful conversation to have over a mediocre Chateaubriand and a few overrated and overpriced chardonnays. The commensals pretended to be incredibly interested and the intensity of nodding in admiration was only matched by the total amount of the bill.
That CEO, by the way, did very well over the coming years, and a Californian mansion with swimming pool later, he sold the company and disappeared to concentrate on his hardest professional challenge ever: how to spend his money. In between, he was a very poor leader, a thought of course not shared by the shareholders, but unanimously felt by everybody else, from managers to cleaners.
Some of these ‘forward to the past’ behaviours, to repeat an expression I used recently, are quite toxic.
You can’t run an organization, small or big, or a division of it, with a forward-to-the-past leadership style, and, at the same time, order employee engagement surveys.
The most disengaged people, are those who are on the payroll but never joined the company.
They live in a rear mirror, comparison world, stuck in their previous titles or achievements, and bringing to the table not much value other than sentences starting with ‘when I was in X’.
The past is great, maybe. The past may need to be revered, maybe. The past is personal, mostly. But we don’t need archaeologists to build a new house. People who talk about their past employment all the time, usually don’t have time to engage in their new one.
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