icon-email icon-facebook icon-linkedin icon-print icon-rss icon-search icon-stumbleupon icon-twitter icon-arrow-right icon-email icon-facebook icon-linkedin icon-print icon-rss icon-search icon-stumbleupon icon-twitter icon-arrow-right icon-user Skip to content
Senior Correspondent

Past, Present, and Future Tense Leadership

Past, Present, and Future Tense Leadership


Time is a way of seeing. Your view of time affects your relationships and decisions. Some leaders make decisions with the past in mind, others focus on the present. Still others, perhaps the most dangerous, make decisions with the future in mind.

Three ways of filtering time:

1. Past-Oriented Leaders

Some leaders lean toward history when making decisions. They think about how things were. They ask:

  • What happened?
  • What went wrong?
  • How can we protect gains?

These leaders need certainty before trying new things. They admire people who don’t make waves. Stability and systems are the benefits past-oriented leaders bring to organizations.

2. Present-Oriented Leaders

Some leaders focus on the present when making decisions. They are practical thinkers. I’m not thinking of people who live for the moment. Present-oriented leaders live in the moment. They ask:

  • What’s happening now?
  • What needs to be done?
  • What resources do we currently have?

These leaders neglect the future because of present responsibilities. They admire discipline in others and judge people by how well they complete tasks. Consistency and reliability are the benefits present-oriented leaders bring to organizations.

3. Future-Oriented Leaders

Some leaders look to the future when choosing what to do. They love new ideas and creative thinking. They ask:

  • What could be?
  • What might people become?
  • Who cares about resources?

These leaders are like ping-pong balls, bouncing from one thing to the next. They despise repetition. Disruption is a future-oriented leader’s contribution to organizational life.

Applications For Different Time Filters

There was a time when I judged leaders who had different time orientations from mine. Now I seek and respect their perspectives. Tensions between leaders are often rooted in differences in their time orientation. Effective decisions answer key concerns of past, present, and future orientations. You are better when your view of time is broader.


Stay Up to Date

Sign up for articles by Dan Rockwell and other Senior Correspondents.

Latest Stories

Choosing Senior Living
Love Old Journalists

Our Mission

To amplify the voices of older adults for the good of society

Learn More