“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus”
Philippians 3:12-14

In these continued unpredictable times, every leader is grappling with the same thing. What’s the new way forward? What’s the roadmap out of the restrictions?

It struck me recently that the phrase “I’m looking forward to” is really ironic, because when people say it, they’re actually looking back rather than forward. The old season spills out because most of the time people ask ‘When are we going back?’ rather than ‘How are we going forward?’

For leaders, recalibrating is about ensuring that our ‘looking forward to’ isn’t actually ‘looking back’ in disguise. When that’s the case, we miss the opportunity to be innovative. Recalibrating our leadership, our churches and ministry contexts is about focussing on the new, rather than enshrining the past.

The truth is that looking back is natural. If you’ve led anything for any length of time, you’ll have some regrets. So did the Apostle Paul. He had many reasons to make a conscious and healthy decision to forget. He held the coats of those who stoned Stephen and made many mistakes in his journey towards Christ and his growing leadership. Even so, Paul learned, or chose to press on, forgetting what lay behind and straining towards the future.

The past holds many experiences. If you are anything like me, you have successes, achievements, connections, regrets, failures, missteps, and all the rest. Unless we take care, the past can anchor us down and become our permanent dwelling place. Even living in our leadership successes for too long has its dangers. We all carry leadership mistakes and leadership successes. The ability to process these well with God and others, will keep us healthy and buoyant for the road ahead. So how do we do that well?

Don’t be a prisoner to your past

Are you not able to move forward because your mind is focused on the past?

It’s too easy to become a prisoner to the past and miss out on present opportunities and future possibilities. Memories get in the way of re-imagination. Nostalgia can be a lid on new things.

Jesus once boldly said, “No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” The message was clear: Don’t look back; look forward.

Don’t be a prisoner to your failures

The same grace that was extended to Paul is extended to us.

Leadership guilt can be all-consuming, imprisoning our confidence, if we dwell on it.

Leaning into grace, rather than guilt, is the best decision. Learning to process our leadership mistakes and mis-steps with God and mature and godly friends will free us to see the road ahead more clearly. They will also increase our courage to rise to the challenges of leadership.

Don’t be a prisoner to your success

Dwelling on successes feels good but don’t let it be a permanent stopping place. God always has more and more will always require strain, effort and a determined conviction. As Paul says: “not that I have already obtained”.

It’s meant to tug and pull a little. That’s the reality of movement.  Leadership always means progression and change.

Celebrate and be thankful for your successes, for sure, but give glory to God and others. Then keep going, pushing into the ‘more’ of God.

I love this quote from Mary McLeod Bethune, who is one of the Hidden Figures we’ll be highlighting soon:

“In each experience of my life, I have had to step out of one little space of the known light, into a large area of darkness. I had to stand awhile in the darkness, and then gradually God has given me light. But not to linger in. For as soon as that light has felt familiar, then the call has always come to step out ahead again into new darkness.”
— Mary McLeod Bethune