The case for Reflection
Why is reflection critical for leaders? A daily practice of self-reflection strengthens self-awareness and enables better decision making. Reflection leads to clarity, which leads to improvement. The leaders I work with who commit to this practice are better able to tap into their highest potential for creativity, vitality, and success. Self-reflection allows us to declutter, see what is important and focus on what can be done better and differently. It is a must-do for faster learning and accelerated change of unproductive mindsets or habits. I see reflection as the highway to personal change and improvement. When you do not take the highway, your progress is significantly slowed down and even reduced.
Warren Buffet, Oprah Winfrey, and Bill Gates spend five hours a day reading and reflecting. Past LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner sets aside daily two hours for his thinking. Billionaire entrepreneur Sara Blakely (Spanx founder) journaled her reflections for years. As a result, she has over 20 notebooks documenting her life challenges and the gifts that have unfolded for her, as a result.
Why is reflection so difficult? In our culture of action and performance, slowing down “to just think” may seem like a waste of time. However, when we are in action, it is paramount not to mistake motion for effectiveness. Daily self-reflection requires radical honesty with oneself. Depending on how honest you can be with yourself and how familiar you are with feeling vulnerable, true reflection can feel uncomfortable. The process of reflection retrains your brain to sit in the moment and expands your ability to focus. Reflection is the exact opposite of jumping meeting to meeting with obsessive multi-tasking behaviors.
Structured Think Time
Create this powerful habit by dedicating the same time of the day to your self-reflection practice. I recommend to do this first thing in the morning, when your mind is clear, and you have not been pulled yet into a million different directions. This is your big opportunity to prioritize what matters most to you and set your intention for the day, before meetings start and your inbox piles up. Alternatively, you might find it easier to reflect at night, when all noises cease. The key is to set aside a time to be radically honest with yourself. Start by dedicating a few minutes each day for self-reflection, increase gradually, and you may eventually build this time up to 30 – 60 minutes, which is your goal.
Your style and format for reflecting is up to you. My analytical clients tend to like structure. They often pick a question or two for consideration during reflection. If you are new to reflection, you may find it easier to reflect while going for a walk or hike.
Reflect with a Coach or Trusted Dialog Partner
The role of the coach or discussion partner is to help facilitate the exploration of ideas, to make reflection more productive, and last, but not least, to help you build reflective capabilities that set you off on the right reflection track. If you are someone who tends to ruminate on problems, a coach can help you learn how to let this compulsive habit go away, in favor of a healthier new way of thinking on your own. This partner must have the ability to withhold judgement, be an expert in some way on your situation, and be highly trustworthy. Generate with your coach a list of meaningful and interesting questions for reflection. You may reflect on these questions by yourself first, and then discuss with your coach. You can also use these thought starters during team meetings, to generate group reflection.
- What is the purpose of my company and organization?
- What would I do differently if I could recreate the organization from scratch?
- What would I do now if there were no constraints on my actions?
- What do I not know about the industry and the company?
- What unique value can I add in my leading role (CEO, SVP, VP, Director, Manager)?
- What imprint do I wish to create as a leader on employees and other stakeholders?
- What are my very top priorities this year, this quarter, or this month?
- What are my values and how does my work and personal life align (or not) with them?
- If I could change anything that would have the greatest impact on my life, what would it be?
- What are some near term, low risk, experiments I can try that may have a significant impact?
Create a Reflection Culture
Strong leaders not only practice self-reflection themselves, they also encourage their teams to do so. A self-reflective team is a team that has identified its priorities and is prepared to deal with any setbacks. Empower employees to consider the bigger picture of the organization and think like leaders. Imagine if every single person in your current organization viewed him/herself as a leader? Imagine if everyone felt empowered to slow down and think more regularly about their priorities, giving themselves space to think broader and longer, and built a habit of considering opportunities or risks that may have been overlooked in the past. Imagine each member of your team thinking like an intrapreneur. Changing the dynamic of your people into thinkers and reflection experts can up level your team into strategic planners. Expect to hear new creative ideas, see enhanced collaboration, and have more team ownership in steering the company forward!
Jennifer is a certified Executive Coach specialized in leadership development, career advancement and strengths-based coaching. Discover Jennifer’s coaching engagement programs and approach at www.jenrichconsulting.com.