Do you read biographies? Have you seen Hamilton? Have seen the movie, Selma? If you interact with history, the characters deliver an important sense – a sense of history.

A sense of history relates to purpose. Whether it is crafting a financial system for a nation or pursuing civil rights, leaders in the moment are thinking about how to make decisions and take actions for future generations. Benefits come earlier, but these leaders know that they are building a foundation. They know that they need to get it right.

Personal History versus Shared History

Great leaders embrace a good sense of shared and personal history. Strive for both.


Some historical leaders we consider may have had personal flaws. Some flaws may be bigger than others. We are imperfect. Although still not right, personal flaws are usually contained within self or a few individuals. I am talking about failings from alcoholism to infidelities, not failings that involve crimes or abuse. Integrity is paramount, and personal failings negatively impact what any leader may have done for positive impact.

What some past business and political leaders had was a healthy sense of history for their positive mission but, at times, had an unhealthy sense of personal history. Ideally, a leader will embrace a good sense of personal and shared history. We need to strive for both.

A Sense of History: Forward not Backward

sense of historyWith a sense of history, the important element is leading forward. History provides lessons to leverage and, sometimes, avoid repeating. However, leaders with a sense of history don’t get stuck in the past. Having a sense of history translates into making an impact on the present with momentum to affect future generations in an affirmative manner.

Acting with a strong sense of history means leaders are giving something for future generations to pull forward and then improve as needed. Leading with a sense of history means solving tough problems, crafting progressive solutions, and building diverse relationships.

Imperative – A Healthier Sense of History

Discontentment is evident in our society and in many of our workplaces. We can dice up the reasons for this frustration and discouragement in many ways. A key ingredient to move through our discontentment is calm leadership and leaders who understand their role in history. This is true for business, community, educational, and political leaders.

Several aspects spring from a sense of history to make to real.


Business leaders with a healthy sense of history understand that their company needs to adapt and evolve over time. IBM is different today than it was thirty years ago. Microsoft is different today than it was 10 years ago. We can name other companies that have changed through time in order to survive and thrive. We also can name companies that did not have a sense of history, other than getting stuck in the past. Think Kodak or Sears or Montgomery Ward.

Product strategy changes, along with product mix. Customer segments change, as do partnerships. Without thoughtful changes, a business can become history rather than be a part of it going forward.


Unsolved problems stunt progress. Leaders with a sense of history have a strong desire and skill set to solve problems. They are present in the moment and work collaboratively toward solutions that will benefit situations, people, and processes. Being present means solving problems today rather than kicking them down the road. As Jeff Bezos said, avoid Day 2, meaning make decisions to avoid irrelevancy.

A sense of history demands leaders to step up to the needs and responsibilities of what confronts us today. Leaders don’t have to solve all problems themselves. Great leaders deliver the culture and the support for diverse individuals to come together, design solutions, and drive implementation. Great leaders create the environment in which people are active in choices, implementation, and outcomes.


Leaders who have a sense of history raise aspirations of those around them. Inspiration plays a role, but it is much more. By itself, inspiration makes people feel good, but it may not lift our goals or keep us centered in purpose. Aspirations raise our outlook to what is possible. Aspirations stir inside but also engage our minds to think more broadly, deeply, and diversely. Without aspirations, we lose passion and emotion. We need both to be motivated and motivate others.

Having a sense of history in business and community requires a spark to do more for many with substance and future durability.

Lead with a Sense of History

No matter your organization, leaders with a sense of history matter, and we need to recapture this spirit. Without it, we get stuck and mired in uninspiring work and no progress. Without a sense of history, leaders arouse discouragement and divisiveness. Leaders with a sense of history think, lead, and aspire forward.

Where is a sense of history in your leadership? A question we need to answer honestly and then lead with a renewed sense of what the future expects.




Photo by John Bakator on Unsplash
Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash


Leaders are missing a sense of history. A sense of history is important in business, education, nonprofits, and government.