When working with groups of managers I find I make plenty of references to the past, present and future in relation to their on-going development. Typically the past is in the form of sharing management theory and perceived best practice based on research and of course my own experiences as a manager. Working out how this knowledge is relevant and how to apply the learning back in the workplace is all about the present but with very much with an eye to the future. The questions that managers tend to ask is “how can this help my team and I perform better now?” and “what skills do I need to progress over the next 2-5 years?”

There is of course no simple answer to these questions and any answers will be different for different managers. I do however believe there is a key skill that is required and which links back to my theme of past, present and future. That skill is the ability to reflect.

In relation to the past it is the ability to stop what you are doing, stop thinking about problems, stop working at 100 mph and to take some time to reflect. To reflect upon the past in the sense of reminding yourself of what you are trying to achieve (both in work and personally), what are your core values, what makes you tick, what approaches to people and situations work and more importantly what tends not to work.

In relation to the present it is the ability to reflect upon the here and now and what is really most important right now. Take the learning from the past and check that it is still fit for purpose. If it is keep doing it, if it is not do it differently (may need further reflection) and if you don’t know seek feedback from trusted friends and colleagues.

In relation to the future it is the ability to recognise that we are the result of our pasts and that our choices in the present will shape our future. If we have no idea where we are trying to get to we are reflecting with little purpose and whilst we will get somewhere it may not be to our liking!

These thoughts were prompted by a visit this weekend back to my home town which happens to be Wareham in Dorset. I spent a nostalgic few hours walking the ancient town walls and imagining the Saxons preparing to defend themselves from marauding Vikings. I also remembered myself as a kid cycling along those walls to school without a thought for anything other than looking forward to cycling home again. I also visited the cemetery and placed some flowers at my Dad’s grave and thought fondly of the times we had spent playing snooker in the British Legion on a Sunday afternoon. I have teenagers of my own now and it struck me how much I have learned from my parents in the way I have tried to bring up my children. I found that this reflecting upon the past and how it has shaped me today was a very positive experience and reminded me that I should take my own advice more often.

This week I find myself heading off to work in Dubai. In terms of contrast Wareham and Dubai are like chalk and cheese. One old the other new. One familiar and the other a novelty. One static and restricted by its geography the other growing exponentially. I have always wanted to expand my horizons and so I will approach the ‘futuristic’ aspects of Dubai without losing sight of some of the important lessons that my Dad and the sleepy old town of Wareham have taught me.