How To React to Your Future Rather Than Your Past

In the book The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth, John Maxwell writes in the chapter on the Law of the Mirror that to grow, leaders must “stop reacting to their past and start reacting to their future”. In other words; focus on the outcome of your intended growth rather than the outcome of your historical past.

If you are a leader that is moving forward, you will have to get very comfortable with the feeling of being unprepared or over challenged. That is part of what it means to be a leader — going places where no one has gone before and taking others with you. I have learned to become comfortable with that feeling and I actually get really uncomfortable or restless when I feel over prepared or when I don’t feel challenged anymore. The key for me is to continually focus on the mental picture of where I want to end up — the ultimate goal.

Study Your Seasons

Sometimes, we allow the feelings of being unprepared to become a distraction. Like asking “how long is this going to take?”, rather than “how far can I go?”It’s vital to refocus on where a leader needs to grow without letting go of your past progress. A leader has to recognize two things; what season of growth they are in and what season their organization is in. Bill Hybels says “you’re always in a season. It’s your role to know which it is and what to do about it.” 

I am a firm believer in the “seasons” theory. Just like a farmer has different seasons — seasons to plant, seasons to harvest, seasons of preparation and seasons of rest — a leader goes through similar seasons. The key is to know the pattern so that you can plan and prepare properly. I believe each personality has a different pattern. I believe every job has a different pattern. I believe every church and community has a different pattern. The key to understanding the patterns is to be a historian. Study the past. When I first arrived in Lethbridge, I asked the team to provide me all of the records of the church. I studied the attendance records, the financial records, all kinds of data. I was looking for the patterns. I wanted to know the time of year the churches attendance grew and the time of year it would shrink and I wanted to see if there were any consistencies in those patterns over the course of a series of years. When I discovered the patterns I was more confident in planning what I would preach and how we would strategize our growth plan. Then, we went to work and I became an analyst, continually studying where we were comparing our results to what I anticipated to make sure I was right in reading the seasons. So, as a leader I think the best way to predict your future seasons is to be a historian and an analyst.

Develop a Growth Plan

First, as a leader you have to develop a game plan to grow others. The highest function of a leader is not just to lead others. The highest function of a leader is to produce leaders who lead others. I believe mentorship is a process of taking what I have learned or am learning and passing it now to others.

Secondly, you also have to put yourself into the personal growth picture. The key to equipping is modelling. Most of what we learn is observed — “caught” not “taught”. Jesus said, “a disciple is not above his teacher, but when he is fully trained he will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). Paul wrote, “whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or even seen in me - put it into practice” (Philippians 4:9).

Thirdly, a leader needs to connect with their team. Connecting requires energy — so be prepared to give a lot of effort, but it’s worth it. Connecting requires understanding — so ask questions. As author and speaker Jim Rohn taught, “don’t just help people with their jobs, but help people with their lives.

I think fourth, you need to give your people challenging projects. This helps determine emotional, creative, and ability capacity. As Noel Tichy said “winning leaders push people not just to memorize the organization’s values but to wrestle with them, to internalize and use them.” He advocates putting people “in progressively more difficult situations where they have to make decisions, and then give feedback and support.

And lastly, I think you have to empower your team. Empowerment is all about trust. It means not just giving them responsibility, but also giving them authority. As Ken Blanchard said, “empowerment means you have the freedom to act; it also means you are accountable for results.

When leaders are challenged to grow themselves but don’t follow through and do it, neither will their followers.And they end up reading to their past rather than their future, slipping into the “management lane” rather than in the “Leadership lane”.

As a leader you have to model personal growth. One thing that I have found works great is taking my team with me when I go to a conference. That way, we all learn together and we all are excited about the same things at the same time. Conferences are great because the good ones spark new vision and ideas that usually gets a team fired up to grow. If you can’t go to a conference together, invite a good leader in to speak to your team and challenge them. Sometimes a different voice can spark a new passion to grow. If you can’t afford to go to a conference or bring a leader in, read a book together with your team or watch a leadership video or listen to a podcast together. If you as a leader are passionate about growing, your team will be, too.

Leaders who are insecure in their growth plan need constant encouragement.Dan Reiland advises that leaders should “be more concerned about making their followers feel good about their own growth than they are in making their followers feel good about them as their leader.

Leadership is more than just creating followers, it’s really about creating other leaders. That is the key of great leadership. I would go so far as to say that if you are more concerned about your own growth than you are about the progress of your team, you are not really a leader. So, a leader thinks about the things they could do to help others become better, both individually and as a team. They turn their focus outward from their own production and begin helping others to become high producers.

Find a Good Mentor

Not all mentors are created equal.In Eric Greitens’ book Resilience, he makes this point;“The best mentors must know two things:the challenge that’s being faced and the person facing it.”In other words “one size of mentoring” doesn’t fit everyone.

I think there are five qualities that are important to look for in a mentor.

  1. Do they have a passion for growth? If they aren’t passionately growing themselves, they won’t put much effort into growing you. So, look for someone who is passionate for growth.

  2. Are they a worthy example? Teaching is easy. Modelling is difficult. Andrew Carnegie said, “As I grow older I pay less attention to what men say. I just watch what they do.

  3. Do they have proven experience? An old Chinese proverb said, “to know the road ahead, ask those coming back.” Have they been where you want to go?

  4. Do they care about you? I’m looking for someone who will be a friend and offer support. The first question a follower should ask a leader is, “Do you care for me?” If your mentor doesn’t care about you as a person, they won’t be a good mentor.

  5. Are they competent? Are they getting results now? This is different than having just a good track record in the past. You don’t want to be mentored by someone who isn’t getting results right now because they won’t be able to push you to where you need to go. They will be able to tell you good stories but won’t be able to push you beyond their past experiences.

Monitor Your Progress

Mentoring is not about quick fixes.The transformation of an average leader into one whose impact creates leaders, takes time and patience. Even more so is the transformation of an organization.  So how do you monitor the progress and growth of your organization’s transformation when it’s still in progress?

The best way I know how is to measure absolutely everything.

[bctt tweet="You can’t manage what you don’t measure." username="kellystickel"]

So, keep stats on everything and constantly monitor the progress and growth. With that being said, one of the things I have noticed is that it is most difficult to continue pushing growth forward when you are having success. The natural tendency for all of us is to relax and to stop pushing when we are experiencing success, so this is when it is most important for the leader to continually set challenging goals in front of the team to keep them pushing and growing and to combat the natural drift to complacency.

5 Levels of Leadership

In John Maxwell’s book The 5 Levels of Leadership, he depicts the lowest level of leadership as “positional”, that is leaders usually start with just a position or title.Their followers follow because they have to. 

The next level, level 2, is where the leader builds relationships with their followers, and then at level 3, leaders with their followers begin to produce results. With each level, leaders must maintain the values and strength of each preference level.Sometimes, however;a leader get stuck on the permission level of relationships and never moves on to the production level of results.

I think they get stuck at level 2 because they are so relationally focused that they neglect being results focused. These leaders will tend to avoid confronting poor performance and challenging mediocrity because they are more afraid to confront than they are to not get results. I don’t think anyone enjoys confrontation, if they do they are not healthy, but confrontation is inevitable and even necessary as a leader. Your job as a leader is to be a change agent. You have to be forever on the lookout for ways to improve the team and challenge them. Start today by setting aside an hour to think of 5 ways to change things for the better and then go about challenging your team to make those changes.

Appreciate the Journey

The growth “process” is so valuable.Leaders must not only keep their eye on the “prize” but on the consistency of the journey.

I tend to be naturally future focused, so much so that I often forget to enjoy the right now, the journey, because I am always living in tomorrow. So, I have to stop every once in a while and celebrate where I am and more importantly celebrate with my team. I have noticed other leaders who get stuck in their past, either they can’t get over a past failure or they keep reliving a past victory. If your past looks brighter than your future, that is a problem. Leaders never stop growing.

Keep Your eye on the Prize

Grow your people. Growing people is more important than having the right strategies or programs. Grow your people as leaders. As John Maxwell says, leadership is influence. So, that would mean that if I grow my people in the area of leadership, they will grow in influence in our community. The church can’t help but grow then and bring the hope that is Jesus to their community. So, grow your people, grow your people, grow your people. That is essentially the job description the Apostle Paul gave pastors in Ephesians 4 when he said their job was to “equip” (which means skill develop) the saints for the work of the ministry.

Because as long as there are people in our community who don’t know Jesus, our job is not complete. We can’t settle on our past success because their are people who’s eternities rest on us pushing forward and growing our influence in our city to reach them. I think the greatest tragedy in the world is a church that is in maintenance mode, and all they can talk about is the good ol’ days. To me that is a crime. And apparently Jesus thought so too when he shared the parable of the talents and called the servant who maintained the wealth he was given, wicked and lazy. He didn’t lose it, he maintained it. We can’t afford to be in maintenance mode as the church, because peoples eternities are at stake and because we are the hope of the world and we are on a mission to reach every available person at every available time by every available means with the Gospel of Jesus Christ by creating churches unchurched people love to attend.

Episode Resources:

If you have questions you would like answered in an upcoming podcast, please email