By Gino Blefari
“Now the first of December was covered with snow, and so was the turnpike from Stockton to Boston. The Berkshires seemed dream-like on account of that frosting, with ten miles behind me and ten thousand more to go.” – James Taylor, Sweet Baby James, 1970
Last week, my travels took me to the magnificent Aqua Turf Club in Plantsville, Connecticut to attend the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England Properties Awards and Service celebration hosted by president and CEO Candace Adams and her fantastic team of agents, managers and staff. After years of living in California, enjoying the Golden State’s ever-present palm trees and perpetual sunshine, I had a distinct sense of nostalgia spending time in the decidedly chillier Northeast. Something about being back among the charm of a snowy New England town made this visit feel like a trip home.
It makes perfect sense; I was actually born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in the heart of the Berkshires and a 60-mile stone’s throw away from Plantsville. (According to Google Maps, Plantsville is exactly 101 miles from my birthplace and the house where I spent the first three years of my life.) My heritage is—and always will be—in Pittsfield; both my grandmothers worked at coat factories in Pittsfield and much of my family still lives there today. And, in a twist of historical fate, Pittsfield is not more than 15 miles from Adams, Massachusetts, where the Berkshire Cotton Manufacturing Company was established in 1889. In 1955, this textile company—then called Berkshire Fine Spinning Associates—merged with Hathaway Manufacturing Co. to form an organization called Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Sound familiar?
But back to our thoughts on leadership: Life charges forward at speeds that are sometimes difficult to keep pace with, and as leaders, it’s important to look back and remember where we came from in order to realize where it is we want to go. For me, this meant taking a minute to reflect on my roots, to think about my childhood growing up in Pittsfield and to put all the milestones—and hurdles—of my career in perspective so I could better understand how each one brought me to this very moment in Plantsville, standing not far from where it all began.
Reflection can also be a tool to combat the challenges faced by leaders. In a 2007 article for the Harvard Business Review, Robert Kaplan, former vice chairman of the Goldman Sachs Group, summed up this concept nicely: “It’s hard to see [a solution to your problem] when you’re in the midst of it,” he wrote. “I have learned that a key characteristic of highly successful leaders is not that they figure out how to always stay on course, but that they develop techniques to help them recognize a deteriorating situation and get back on track as quickly as possible. In my experience, the best way to do that is to step back regularly … and honestly ask yourself some questions about how you’re doing and what you may need to do differently.”
So, what’s the message? In a world focused on the future, on implementing the latest technology or on discovering the newest gadget, we should always remember that progress is a byproduct of history and experience. If we take time to heed lessons learned from the past—both good and bad—we’ll be fully equipped to build a better, wiser future. And that’s exactly what we’ll do together as I travel on this journey from the Berkshires to the coast of California and back again.