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Learned Forgetfullness

"We see the world, not as it is, but as we are──or, as we are conditioned to see it."


This quote from Steven Covey highlights a fundamental truth about human perception and growth. As leaders, it's essential to recognize that our past experiences and conditioning can limit our potential if we allow them to define us. However, by embracing the concept of "Learned Forgetfulness," we have the opportunity to break free from these constraints and lead our organizations towards a brighter future.


Learned Forgetfulness is the idea that while we are informed by our past, we are not restricted by it. It's about understanding that our unconscious competencies and habits, like riding a bike being task oriented, can serve us well in certain situations but may hinder our growth in others. As organizational leaders, we have a choice: to be aware of these default behaviors and actively let go of what no longer serves us or our organizations, or to remain bound by our past limitations.


One of the biggest challenges we face as leaders is keeping our people connected to their future and their purpose, rather than getting bogged down in the past and current reality. It's easy to fall into a culture of compliance, where employees simply go through the motions without any real sense of engagement or commitment. To overcome this, we have the opportunity to engender commitment in our people, inspiring them to aspire to the work they do and the impact they can make.


This requires a shift in mindset, both for ourselves and our teams. We can choose to introduce ourselves not as who we've been, but as who we aspire to be. This isn't about being inauthentic or hypocritical; it's about setting high standards and continuously striving to reach them, even if we fall short at times. In fact, if we are really striving and stretching we should expect to fall short. It's about being animated by our higher purpose, rather than our past limitations.


For many of us, this means letting go of the "super-doer" mentality - the default tendency to take on every task and solve every problem ourselves. As a doer your job used to be to get stuff done. However as a leader your job is to develop your people and things will get done through them. Therefore your time is incredibly valuable, and you have the opportunity to own your responsibility for growing your people by delegating tasks that are below your pay grade. This can be challenging, especially when our inner critic is screaming loudly, telling us who we are or what we can or can't do based on our past experiences. But by recognizing these limiting beliefs and consciously choosing to let them go, we open ourselves up to new possibilities and growth.


Real-life struggles shared by CEOs in our forum highlight the transformative power of Learned Forgetfulness. One leader shared how their definition of success in their 20s was vastly different from their perspective now in their 60s. Another spoke about the challenge of silencing their inner critic and embracing new opportunities that pushed them outside their comfort zone. By sharing these stories and supporting each other in our journeys of transformation, we can create a culture of growth and possibility within our organizations.


Ultimately, embracing Learned Forgetfulness is about becoming so good that our past limitations can no longer ignore us. It's about recognizing that who we thought we wanted to be, what we loved, and how we defined success can evolve over time - and that's a good thing. As leaders, we have the opportunity to model this growth mindset for our teams, inspiring them to let go of what no longer serves them and embrace the possibilities of the future.


By leading with Learned Forgetfulness, we can create organizations that are agile, adaptable, and committed to continuous growth. We can foster a culture where people are animated by their higher purpose, rather than weighed down by their past experiences. And in doing so, we can unlock the full potential of our teams and ourselves, creating a brighter future for all.


The choice is ours - will we remain bound by our past, or will we embrace the transformative power of Learned Forgetfulness?


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