Learn From Your Own Past: Raising Your Passion Without Raising Your Voice

Leadership Lesson: Don’t dismiss the entire set of takeaways from a past experience because you regret any portion of it which may make you uncomfortable or feel ashamed.

Looking to the past is both important and a constant source for realization and improvement.

In addition to that realization of what we’re all about and the improvement allowing us to continue building forward, the past also helps us figure out what to avoid doing…again.

Recently, I was talking with someone who was going to be presenting to colleagues in their industry as part of a panel. They were nervous because (a) they didn’t feel confident enough at public speaking to be up in front of a ballroom of people, and (b) they didn’t feel they were a specialist on the topic being discussed.

Nevertheless, someone felt the experience and exposure in their career were valuable enough to extend them an invitation to be on the panel. Because of that, they wanted to brainstorm with me as to how to get it all together and organize their thoughts on their career.

Our time started off with how to get over the nervousness and jitters of presenting in front of a crowd when it’s something you don’t do that often. So, we went through what approach to take and what mindset to utilize when speaking to the crowd.

Then we jumped into the detail of the topic, which meant speaking about their experiences in the field and within their company. This is always an enlightening exercise because it’s amazing how much people don’t take into account all the experience they’ve compiled to date, which they can then share with others. They also discount their value because they may be lower on the organizational chart.

What BS.

In any case, in the course of reviewing their values in the workplace, we got to talking about the importance of bosses understanding the details and nature of the work of those they supervise and lead. That a boss can’t make solid decisions or steer a group, division, or company without understanding what the work of the front-line entails. That a boss is only as good as their curiosity for what is around them.

Through that awareness, a manager, leader, or boss can understand their environment and know enough to ask the right kind of questions for accountability and developmental purposes. The more a boss knows the general work, the more they understand what progress can – or can’t – be made.

And that brought us to one of my colleague’s previous bosses. This particular boss, they told me, didn’t care what was going on with their team. They were nowhere to be found when it came to the front-line needing decisions, overall guidance, and support. There was especially little support when the group would need to be accountable and report to those even further up the chain of command.

The team felt like they were being left high and dry.

They then told me one day they lost it. Although they had kept their and their team’s growing frustration quiet up until that point, the boss slipped up one more time in his negligence, and they let him have it.

And they were ashamed. They said that although they wanted to convey to the panel’s audience how important the responsibility and attention of a boss and manager was, and that their actions came from a place of concern for the workplace and their team, they felt ashamed of what they had done and would never want to share that story. They completely regretted it.

I totally get it. No one likes to paint themselves in the worst possible light. Look at the extreme examples and stories of people in the public eye’s pasts coming back to haunt them – things they did in their youth that are frowned upon now.

It happens to everyone, to one extent or another.

But aren’t people allowed to grow? To mature? To evolve? This isn’t to say, “well, time has passed,” or “well, they’re older now.” I mean, it is ok that time has passed, but they also have to demonstrate that they have true regret for what they feel was a bad move.

Why should my colleague need to hide the detail that they snapped in frustration at a boss anyway — especially when they’ve grown and matured to the point where they now know they would handle it differently?

If anything, shouldn’t it garner respect that they’d be honest enough to share the story, highlighting that they’d learned enough since then to know they would handle it differently? Part of a person’s value is understanding where they need to improve. If someone can share where they need to improve, that’s just as valuable as the other skills they bring to the table.

Related: To The Future Leaders: Know Your Value, Or No One Else Will

And this is what I tried to clarify for them. It wasn’t their passion, work ethic, and commitment that was the problem. It was how they conveyed them in that moment.

If anything, that energy should be revered. Not too many people have that kind of dedication and commitment to their workplace. That’s a huge component of work ethic – that you’re not only a hard worker for yourself, but that you will fight for what is right in the workplace overall. That’s a high level of integrity you can’t teach or instill in someone.

So, I clarified that while, of course, no one wants their temper to get to that point, it’s OK at this point, looking back, that it happened. You can genuinely tell they learned from it — and that’s what matters most.

This is a lesson. And that’s what can be shared with others – the lesson. In my colleague’s roles as a leader, there’s no doubt they themselves must have drawn lessons from that experience — from both the poor job that perp boss did in his work and their own emotional response triggered by that person’s negligence.

There should be no shame in what we were in the past, because we’ve evolved to what and who we are now, in this moment, sharing those lessons with others.

It’s never the emotion, no matter how strong, that is wrong — but it is the reaction. The reaction can either break down communication and perception, or build them up. In this case, such a strong reaction can limit and deteriorate one’s credibility since they can’t control their response to factors in the environment.

Related: Emotional Intelligence: This Is What It’s Like To Break The 4th Wall

Every part of you to date is valuable — both what you did right and what you did wrong. And your awareness of it is even more valuable.

Know what you’re about. Know your strengths. Know your weaknesses. If you know each of them and everything in between, it’ll be harder for you to be caught off-guard by anything.

Don’t try to break away from what or who you were in an uncertain and hazy past.

Clear your eyes, learn from it, and share with others.

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