Last week is a week I’ll remember for quite a while. I engaged the week oriented entirely on the future. It was to start with an exciting decision about our future that we were to make as a team, followed by three speaking engagements with different tribes, each focused on a vision for the future, and a pinning ceremony for our newest Chief Petty Officers. I left the week reminded of how strongly many of us hold onto the past and how uncomfortable some are when pondering a future that looks different than the present. It wasn’t a bad week per se, but for someone who has an addiction to progress and recognizes that time is fleeting with each passing day, it was disappointing. A leader’s responsibilities include help others see what they may not…

…To see opportunities where others see problems

   …To see things as We in favor of Me

      …To see a future that is not constrained by the past or present.

The week reminded me of the famous story about Hernán Cortés. In an overly simplistic version of the story which some may debate the accuracy, it is said that when Cortés first landed in the Americas, he ordered his men to burn all their ships. He wanted to focus his team on the future and this mission by taking away any opportunity for them to consider returning to their homeland. 

Fast forward several hundred years…It just so happens that Apple recently announced their latest iPhone and iOS. Many people are excited about the enhancements to both, but not all. In fact, the removal of the 3.5mm headphone jack has caused quite a stir. The response is not all that different than when they dropped the floppy and later optical drives, moved to the lightning cable in favor of USB, or even the physical keyboard from the smartphones that preceded the iPhone. Most people don’t even remember the transition from now outdated equipment. And many may laugh at themselves for getting so worked up about previous iterations of the latest and greatest technology becoming obsolete. Good or bad, Apple seems to help its customer base embrace the new by taking away the old. And they most certainly challenge their employees to innovate more quickly than others by challenging them to design the future in favor of preserving the past. 

Cortés caused the fall of the Aztec empire and claimed large portions of mainland Mexico for his King. Apple continues to lead a tribe committed to making products that are increasingly efficient and useful (yes, I could put an entirely different spin on Apple, but chose not to). Cortés enjoyed significant mission accomplishment and Apple continues to do the same because both are far less concerned with where they were yesterday than where they saw themselves going into the future. Both were able to get their team to see a future that excited them, strengthening their commitment to own the outcomes together.  

Leaders are charged with ensuring their teammates focus more on who they could become than who they currently are; helping them to realize that the status quo is of little interest; and reminding them that as proud as they may be about the present they have built, they cannot allow themselves to be constrained by it. Here’s to inspiring others to set fire to that which is holding them back. Here’s to seeing progress emerge through the large amounts of smoke. Here’s to helping others see what we see so we can do together. For if we aren’t in a continual state of reinvention, we will be as irrelevant as Apple has made the very products that were once the state of the art…many of them their very own creation. 

  • How future-oriented are you and your team?
  • What ships need to be burned?
  • What legacy connectors are you reluctant to let go of?