Leading With a Foot in the Past – The Company Historian

Company Historian

We all know someone who seems to make the same mistake over and over again. They epitomize the metaphor of a “broken record” by playing the same tune all the time.

Though we learned why Consistency can be a great thing last month, consistently failing is not the end result anyone wants, especially at work.

Something’s Wrong?

For some of us, it’s hard to see that we are making the same mistake, or even what that mistake is. We struggle to understand why something we were so sure of just didn’t work.

Where should we turn for answers or perspective?

But for others, they seem to know when something is going wrong and make adjustments along the way with ease. Most likely, there was a voice of warning somewhere along the line; they knew the project was going to run into this issue because they had gone through something like this before.

How Do They Know?

Their operating system allows them to contextualize new ideas and projects. They seem to know the answers to the present situation because they have a far reaching perspective.

It’s important for this person to research the history of the present to make informed decisions.

For some of us who place more value on action than thought, this person may have become background noise. Ironically enough, it’s them you must turn to in order to create change and break the cycle of repeated failures.

This is someone with the Strength of Context.

Leading with the Strength of Context

The Company Historian

If you are strong in Context, it may have been “Oh so obvious” why a certain configuration was doomed from the beginning. It can be frustrating for you when others aren’t willing to listen to your cautionary tales.

  • Most people have been conditioned to constantly move forward.
  • They push ahead with abandon because the business landscape is constantly changing.
  • And so many fear that lingering for even a moment may jeopardize their future.

You, however, know there is extreme value in the past.

Leading With a Foot in the Past

For you, the future is sown in the past; there is an infinite number of lessons to be learned from the past that can help make the future brighter.

The trouble for you as a leader is getting people to see the connection you do.

People don’t want to feel like they are moving backward, and though that is not what you are doing, those that do not see the world the way you do may have that misconception.

Your Leadership Landscape

So, how do you make your intentions clear?

In a Strengths-Based Ecosystem, your awareness and knowledge of the team’s strengths will play greatly in your favor. Utilizing someone strong in Communication can help you deliver the message in a colorful way.

For people strong in Activator or Futuristic, tying things into the past is going to be difficult. Activators, as we know, like they get things done right now! For them, it’s okay to figure things out along the way.

Futuristic can be so far ahead of everyone else, they may even have problems remaining in the present. Speak to their Strengths through Context. For example:

Activator says: “Let’s just do it”

Context replies: “We do need to do it; first things first though. Here is the documentation from a similar project last year- your first action item is to begin a process map from this, then join with Strategic and Arranger to create a better map.”

Activator needs something to do- by tying history into an actionable item, Activator should be relatively satisfied something is getting done, and you’ll have your history embedded into the process.

Leading a Historian

  • If you are leading someone with Context, and it is not in your wheelhouse, you may feel as though they are slowing things down at every turn.
  • If you, as a leader, are the Activator or Futuristic one, though you may not have a proclivity toward the past, you still understand that most mistakes are avoidable.
  • If you are leading with Activator, you can get the project started by delegating- make Context part of the planning team and set firm deadlines. They just need the time and space to contextualize the project and share what they know.

Futuristic leaders should absolutely utilize Context to create an anchor for their ideas and projects. For those who follow Futuristically, it can be difficult to see the connections or relevance of an idea or plan.

Context can provide the necessary information about past projects to help those on your team responsible for executing make a connection between the past and the future (the tangible and seemingly intangible).

For Futuristic leaders with followers strong in Analytical, Deliberative, Focus, or Discipline, having Context on your team can be the necessary connection to create clear, fact based processes and goals.

If you find yourself being the Company Historian, how do you approach project management? Do you find people coming to you for information on past projects? Do you often make the same mistake twice? Do you lead someone strong with Context? If so, are you able to see the value, or does it frustrate you? How will you change your approach now that you understand it’s an important part of their operating system?


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Alexsys “Lexy” Thompson is Managing Partner at Fokal Fusion
She helps building Strong Leaders through Strong People Strategy
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L2L Contributing Author


  1. ramakrishnan6002 on February 17, 2014 at 8:25 pm

    Reblogged this on Gr8fullsoul.

  2. Jon Baker on February 19, 2014 at 4:15 am

    Good article reminding us that the only way we get things done through others is….to work with them and our message is pointeless until they receive it.