It was a lively debate on how much we should look backward to then look forward. I commented that we must look to the past to inform the future. Another person protested that the past is the past. It needed to be left there, and we must forge new pathways. 

He went on to say that is the only way that innovation emerges. Another person interrupted and said that the past is filled with insights and learnings; why would we not lean into the past? That was the foundation for the lively debate that resulted in no resolution with each person’s perspective remaining, just that: their perspective. 

The explosion of interest in artificial intelligence, technological changes and other advances makes leaders feel that their only view is forward with a sense of urgency as they navigate their organizations through the changes coming at them. An administrator recently told me, “Nothing in the past interests me. I only want to look ahead.”

While forward-looking is critical for strategic planning and navigating an organization through the changes we face in healthcare, much can be learned by looking backward.

Think about great leaders you admire in history. They are the perfect example of backward-looking to inform the future. History recounts the decisions, actions and impact of their leadership. 

Abraham Lincoln continues to be one of the most studied leaders of the past. He is known for putting the best people in key leadership roles, even if they were his rivals or challengers. Descriptors of his qualities are as follows: 

  1. Humble and self-assured: When Lincoln ran in 1860, he wasn’t expected to win, but he did. He was expected to seek revenge on those who wanted the presidential role. He didn’t. Instead, he put them in positions where he knew they had strengths and would benefit the greater good of the country.
  2. Humorous: Lincoln had a fabulous sense of humor. He many times used a self-deprecating storytelling style. He used his humor to build relationships with both allies and opponents alike.
  3. Powerful writer and orator: He was highly skilled in conveying important messages in a personal way. A way that people could understand and support.
  4. Empathetic: Lincoln’s empathetic skills gave him insight into the motivation, hardships, and needs of those he encountered. People felt that he genuinely cared, and he did.
  5. Visionary: He knew that he needed to be forward-looking in navigating the issues facing him and work towards healing the nation.
  6. Present: Lincoln was present to his troops, being a visible and accessible leader. He listened and made sure that the troops’ needs were met. He knew that what they were doing was harder than what he was facing. He conveyed his appreciation for their sacrifice. He knew that for some it would be the ultimate sacrifice — their life. 

Lincoln knew that he needed to be forward-looking. He knew that he needed to sell his vision and meet people where they were in their views, without judgment. He knew that it would be hard, but to not move forward would be even harder.

He was humble and used humor and storytelling skills to clarify the why of his vision and how he planned to lead the people forward. He was present to his people. His leadership traits are the same ones that are effective by leaders throughout history. When you look to the past, themes of leadership traits emerge amongst the greatest leaders in history. The traits are eerily similar to what Lincoln exhibited.

Healthcare is undergoing tremendous challenges and changes. But so was the nation during the time of Lincoln’s leadership. The traits he exhibited are the same traits that are needed in today’s leaders. People long for a leader who is present, empathetic, visionary and can communicate the pathway forward.

Conscious or unconscious, the past does influence the future. What can you use and learn from the past to inform your leadership ability for the future?

Martie L. Moore, MAOM, RN, CPHQ, is the President/CEO of M2WL Consulting. She has been an executive healthcare leader for more than 20 years. She has served on advisory boards for the National Pressure Injury Advisory Panel and the American Nurses Association, and she currently serves on the Dean’s Advisory Board at the University of Central Florida College of Nursing and Sigma, International Honor Society for Nursing. She was honored by Saint Martin’s University with an honorary doctorate degree for her service and accomplishments in advancing healthcare.

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.

Have a column idea? See our submission guidelines here.