You or Your Organization May Be Plateaued If...

By Mike Clarensau

You or your organization may be plateaued if…

  1. ... your talk of the future easily drifts into talk of the past

It’s the bane of the plateaued organization—a past that knew some success now magnified into a history we wish to repeat. Talk of yesterday is a waiting syllable on the tongue of leaders who struggle to find today’s solutions. Remember when…somehow manages to slip into every effort to determine what now.

For the plateaued organization, yesterday holds an understandable fascination, especially for those who lived it. We remember winning and want to win again. We remember the journey, the moments that looked uncertain, the joys of ascending the mountain…then. For leaders who steered that climb, the temptation to drift there again seems a good source for challenging today’s crew.

But, as someone once sang, yesterday’s gone and the door we once entered is no longer available. Today’s world has its own challenges, its own opportunities, and its own unique journey to be lived. Too much talk of yesterday makes the leader sound like he’d rather live there with the people he once knew. Today’s team finds such talk disheartening and demotivating, especially when the leader’s thoughts of yesterday magnify days that weren’t, in truth, all that magnificent.

Trips down memory lane bring joy to those who possess those memories. But they seldom hold the potential for addressing current reality. In the plateaued organization, this is often an unacknowledged barrier. Leaders who drift into descriptions of yesterday often do so because they’re unsure of what to do today. The world moved. Change has been constant, and now the playing field for today’s game looks much different than it once did. That’s why some leaders want to go back, or at least want yesterday’s solutions to solve the riddle of this moment.

But you can’t find usually your way forward looking in the rearview mirror. Yes, principles can often be gleaned from where we’ve been, but seldom can strategy be found there. That’s why someone who is unencumbered by the past will step into our world and find the future more quickly and seemingly easily than those of us with a longer track record.

In the world of the church, I’ve always held that two of the documents that are valuable and necessary to our organization can also cripple that organization if we prize them too highly—your bylaws and your history book. These are necessary tools for keeping our proverbial feet on the ground, but spending too much time with them isn’t usually productive. These are documents that define yesterday and today. Seldom do they hold solutions for tomorrow.

In the same way, stories of the past may feel motivating to those who once lived them, but they do little for the rest of us. Frankly, we’d rather you describe a future we can’t yet see, than a past we never lived.

If you or the organization you lead is traversing a plateau, pretending that you’re still climbing isn’t fooling anyone. Sadly, for a host of possible reasons, it’s often the leader that’s among the last to acknowledge the current terrain.

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