We all live with a few regrets, or so a survey that I read the other day would have us believe. But I think it would be true that there can be very few people who, in all honesty can say, “I don’t have any regrets” when it comes time to taking stock – whenever that might be. In fact three-quarters of those interviewed said that they didn’t think it was possible to live without regrets.

So what are the things that we regret? The survey revealed the top ten regrets to be:
1.    Not having saved more money
2.    Not having worked harder at school
3.    Not having exercised more
4.    Not seeing more of the world
5.    Taking up smoking
6.    Not staying in touch with people more
7.    Not having taken more care of our bodies when younger
8.    Not having appreciated an elderly relative more before he or she passed away
9.    Not having taken more photos of experiences growing up
10.    Getting married too early

It would seem that the main areas of regret are our love lives (20%), family (18%), career (16%), health (14%) and finances (14%). Two-thirds of those surveyed felt that their regrets spurred then on to greater achievement and 17% blamed others for their regrets.

One thought as I looked through that list was how it might change from generation to generation. For one thing, the next generation will have no regrets about recording their history. The other day one of my kids stumbled across a faded photo of me in my youth. Of course it was the subject of much comment- most of it derogatory! The comment that arrested the flow of conversation that was going against me was a simple (but I would like to think profound), “well there aren’t too many old photos of me but think what your kids will do with your Facebook time-line one day?” Enough said!

An interesting survey on a thought-provoking topic. It got me thinking about the kind of regrets a leader might identify were he or she to be asked about what they regretted when it came to their own leadership practise. I suspect that the list would be long and that it would be very context specific – after all, leadership is always context specific. Nonetheless, it would be a great question to ask a group of leaders and I suspect that the conversation to follow would be well worth noting.

Leading without regret hinges on two important elements.

Firstly, it relies on healthy self-awareness. You lead out of who you are and the character ethic in leadership is indispensable. Knowing who you are and knowing your strengths and weaknesses are the building blocks to setting your future agenda as a leader. I think that the more work leaders do in these areas, the less likely they are to live with massive regret when it comes to reviewing their leadership journey.

Secondly, to lead without regret means to take responsibility for the choices you make. Covey regarded this as fundamental to emotional maturity and avoiding the ‘blame game’ is something good leaders do. It is a lesson perhaps that many in the South African government are still to learn, but that is another subject for another time.

Leading without regret is not the same as leading without error or mistake. It is not about being perfect but rather it is about engaging head-on with the challenge of life and leadership and having a full go. It is about knowing that you have done your best and that you have been honest, real and consistent. It is to acknowledge your flaws, oversights and omissions. Leading without regret will involve showing up every day and will demand time to think, reflect and recharge. Knowing what these look like for you is the first step; practicing them to the point where they become a leadership habit, is the second.

What would leading without regret look like for you? I would think it a great conversation for both those starting out on their leadership journey, as well as those grizzled veterans of the journey we tag ‘leadership’! Perhaps it is a conversation we should have more often in both leadership development programmes and the board room.

So, what would leading without regret look like for you?

Source: The survey was not mentioned by name but was written about in The Independent on Saturday, 3 March,2012, page 10.

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