Albert EinsteinLearn from the past. Live in the present. Hope for the future.

When your child shares his philosophy on life by quoting Albert Einstein, you listen.

Five years ago, we wrote HR Lessons From a Preschooler to share HR insights through the eyes of our 5-year-old. Now 10 years old, Matthew inspires once again. Here’s a play by play of a recent conversation I had with Matthew about how he approaches playing on his Little League baseball team:

Me: “What do you think about when you go up to bat? What do you say to yourself?

Matthew: “I don’t get what you mean.

Me: “Well, some kids take it really hard when they strike out. If you strike out, how do you get over it so that it doesn’t affect you the rest of the game?

Matthew: “Well, it’s like this. Learn from the past. Live in the present. Hope for the future. That’s from Albert Einstein.

Me: [Very surprised] “Ummm…what do you mean?

Matthew: “When I get to the plate, sometimes the coach asks me to let the first pitch pass by. I learn from that. How the pitcher pitches. Where it goes over the plate. By learning from the ball that’s just past, I can prepare for the next pitch. For the next pitch, it’s the present. I wait for it. Watch the ball. Then I decide what to do based on what I see. If I miss, I know I have at least one other chance. That’s hoping for the future. Also, there’s nothing to worry about because even if I strike out, I’ll have another 1 or 2 at bats in the game. I just hope that I’ll hit the ball next time.

If you’re like me, you’re probably in awe of what 10 year old Matthew just said. Learning to shake off the bad and hope for the future is a lesson that many people live a lifetime not learning.

I told Matthew that I would share his philosophy on playing baseball because it can apply to so many aspects of HR, so here goes.

Learn from the Past

  • It’s frequently said that the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour. Whether interviewing candidates for a new position, brainstorming ideas to solve a problem, or providing performance feedback, find out what has previously happened to help inform what you’ll do in the future.
  • Ask interview candidates for examples of when they’ve demonstrated particular skills or handled specific situations so that you can understand how they reacted, what they’ve learned, and what they would do differently next time if faced with a similar situation.
  • Ask employees for suggestions on how to solve a particularly challenging problem. They’ll bring a myriad of life experiences and examples to help address the problem. Don’t reinvent the wheel.
  • When providing employee feedback, both positive or constructive, give examples of things they did to shine light on what they should keep doing more of, or what they should stop doing.

Live in the Present

  • Focus on the here and now. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the work we need to do, the projects we need to manage, the emails we need to respond to, the people knocking on the door, the meetings we need to get to.
  • While multitasking is often one of those skills we value in employees, it’s a myth to think that it’s possible to do more than one thing at a time well. We might think that we can eat lunch, respond to an email and plan dinner for tonight all at the same time, but in reality we are really switching from one topic to the next really quickly.
  • Try to focus on doing one thing at a time and do it well, even if you only do that one thing for 5 minutes at a time. When an employee needs to talk to you, stop what you’re doing and listen to them. Don’t check your text messages or shuffle papers on your desk.
  • When you have a to-do list a mile long, don’t try to do it all at once. Pick one item to do (usually the most urgent or most important item) rather than trying to do 10 items on the list at the same time.

Hope for the Future

  • Hope is often what drives us to do good work. Hope that we can make a difference, that we can improve someone’s life, that we can do things better, faster or smarter.
  • Be a positive example of the behaviours and attitude you want your employees to demonstrate. Give employees performance feedback and convey your confidence in them. Tell them you believe in them and they’ll usually do their best to live up to your expectations.
  • Paint a picture of what the future can look like for them in their job (on a small scale) to the difference the company can make to the world (on a large scale). Your job as a leader is to inspire hope that the future will be better if everyone plays their part.

Employees and managers often dwell on the past – the past mistakes, the good ‘ol days, the unkept promises. Living in the past prevents us from seeing what’s happening in the present. And, if we aren’t living in the present, it’s hard to have hope for the future. Take a lesson from Matthew: learn to shake off the bad and focus on the good, live in the moment, stay positive and hopeful. You’ll be happier for it.

Side note: Congratulations to Matthew and the Little Mountain Baseball 9/10 All-Stars for winning the District 1 tournament! Good luck at the 9/10 Little League BC Provincials!

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