Experts say one of the most important and often neglected aspects of good decision making is the ability to step back and ask the question, “What have I learned in the recent past that will influence my planning for the future?”
Such reflection is not about blame, self-defeating criticism, or viewing the world through a positive or negative tinted prism. Rather, it’s about sober self-assessment; about reflecting upon the basic assumptions of your life—the things you do, the things you believe in, the things you pursue. My wife, Karen, and I will pose this question to ourselves this week as we examine what we’ve learned in 2006 and what we can change for the better in 2007. If you’re anything like me, your list of things to work on is sizeable, and yet each year seems to provide examples of goals achieved, lessons learned, and changes made.
But I fear that our leaders are often so present-oriented that they fail to remember to ask this important question of themselves. Leaders are often so focused on the next meeting, the next project or that overflowing inbox that concern for the present overwhelms the future. I’ve noticed this phenomenon in the business world. All too often, leaders figure they don’t have the time to look back, decompress a bit, and recalibrate their plans for the future.
As busy as President Bush may be in this crucial point in American history, he simply cannot afford to make the mistake of failure to reflect. As he spends the holidays in Crawford, Texas, I hope he is using his time to reflect upon the year 2006—to examine what he did right, what he did wrong, and what corrective action he can take in the future. If the president were so inclined, here’s some of what I imagine he might write down about 2006.
1. I learned about humility, as my short-term hopes for Iraq and the election were not realized.
2. I learned—as I have learned in every year of my presidency—that the war against Islamists remains the most pressing issue facing the United States, and I will do whatever it takes to protect the American people.
3. I learned that I’m going to be seeing a lot more of Nancy Pelosi.
4. I learned that compromise will be necessary, but that I need to negotiate from positions of strength and principle.
5. I learned that optimism, especially in sour circumstances, is invaluable.
6. I learned that my leadership is changing the composition of the Supreme Court.
7. I learned that that’s a good thing.
8. I learned that the American people dislike the fiscal recklessness of some of my policies and those of my political party.
9. I learned that the American people dislike corruption and immorality, especially from the party known for its moral values.
10. I learned that the American people are restless and uncertain about the war.
11. I learned that it is my responsibility to prepare them for a long struggle.
12. I learned that Tony Snow can make David Gregory squirm.
13. I learned that loyalty has its costs.
14. I learned that change within my Cabinet and staff can lead to fresh thinking and new perspectives.
15. I learned that my presidency is quickly drawing to a close and that I must do all that I can to ensure that my successor inherits a more safe, prosperous, and hopeful nation than the one I inherited.
This is not an exhaustive list, but I believe it is a helpful one. If the president does come up with a list like the one above, then I hold out great hope for our country in 2007. If he doesn’t, then I’m apprehensive about his—and our—future. But in my life I’ve worked with many leaders who, like President Bush, are men of character. I have seen them make similar lists, and engage in similar introspection. And so I have great confidence that the president has used his time in Crawford to ask the tough questions, to learn from the past so as to succeed in the present and plan for the future. He—and we—cannot afford anything less in 2007.