It’s 11:40 on Tuesday evening and I’m sitting on my deck reading and listening as the crickets and cicadas harmonize. This is my time, and being retired I have the opportunity to stay up and enjoy the stillness of the night. I use this time to read, write my gratitudes and gather my thoughts relative to each week’s newsletter. Over the next few evenings, it will go through numerous drafts and may even change direction from time to time. I also use this time to be mindful and reflect. The reflection component’s evolution has become especially interesting over the past few months. Initially I spent a great deal of time reflecting on my career and what had been accomplished. Of late, I’ve begin to employ some of the ideas gained through my reading and my work at Penn, as a means of reflecting on my current ventures. As I prepared this newsletter I was pleased to see a number of my reflective practices reinforced.
In a guest post to Martin Webster’s blog, Leadership Thoughts, Jacqui Spencer, a leadership consultant, shares her thoughts on Why Self-Reflection Is the Key to Effective Leadership. She proposes that the improvement of leadership skills is tied directly to an awareness of our strengths and weaknesses, and the ways in which we attempt to influence others. To demonstrate, she cites an example of helping a client adapt to a new CEO. After working with him for a short period of time, she sensed he was beginning to doubt his own skills. Spencer suggested he take time to reflect on what he had learned over his many years as a senior executive. How? By writing a letter to his younger self and sharing this knowledge as he was just starting out on the career path. She then shares her own “leadership reflection letter”. She states, “To me this remains the best exercise I ever did on personal reflection, not because it demonstrated the power of memories, but because it made me appreciate what it was like to be me and how lucky I was.” Simply put, self-reflection creates self-awareness which is a key ingredient for effective leadership.
Henna Inam, CEO of Transformational Leadership, Inc. and author of Wired for Authenticity provides another approach to reflection in her Forbes Leadership Post, To Be An Effective Leaders Keep a Leadership Journal. Like Spencer, Inam encourages us to write as a means of reflecting on our work and life, but rather than preparing a letter she considers the practice of journaling. Many of our greatest leaders including Teddy Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan maintained daily journals/diaries. (I wonder if…….. No! I’m not even going there.) Like Spencer, she believes the greatest benefit to journaling is expanding self awareness. She even quotes Peter Drucker, “Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.” Inam then provides some direction to get started and even includes some prompts.
• Block out 15 minutes in the morning or evening for journaling
• Find a place where you won’t be disturbed.
• Utilize a prompt to get started:
◦ What emotions are present within you at the moment?
◦ What’s going well? What created this?
◦ What’s challenging? What’s creating that?
◦ What needs my attention?
◦ What am I grateful for?
◦ What strengths do I notice in myself?
◦ What strengths and contributions do I see in others who surround me?
◦ What am I learning?
◦ What is an action I am committed to?
Start with one or two questions and try it for a few days. I’ve tried, and it works! Think about it, what do you have to lose? A fifteen minute investment might begin to change you life. Sounds like a no-brainer to me!
Some of you just said, “No brainer my a_ _! He’s retired! He has more 15 minute segments than he knows what to do with!” Agreed! I do have more time, but if reflection is such a powerful tool, why do so many people put off scheduling the time? Jennifer Porter, answers that question in her March, 2017 HBR Post, Why You Should Make Time for Self-Reflection (Even If You Hate Doing It). Porter begins with a powerful statement, “The hardest leaders to coach are those who won’t reflect – particularly leaders who won’t reflect on themselves.” She then provides insight into five reasons leaders don’t take time to self-reflect:
• They don’t understand the process – In essence they don’t understand or know what to do. For some, it’s easier simply not to pursue something that to ask for help.
• They don’t like the process – For many this is a new experience. It can make us feel uncomfortable and vulnerable – two feeling leaders dislike.
• They don’t like the results – Some may question taking the time to learn what they think they already know – their strengths. Likewise, reflection sometimes reveals our weaknesses, which can lead to defensiveness.
• They have a bias toward action: Some view reflection as a passive experience. There is no action, it is all planning. Nothing is being done. Remember, action is best taken following planning.
• They can’t see a good return on investment (ROI) – Time is the most precious commodity we have. Some leaders question that value of reflection when there is no immediate payoff.
Porter continues her post by identifying some simple steps leaders can take to become more reflective, and like Inam ends her post by quoting Drucker.
Well, it’s 9:48 on Sunday evening, and the newsletter has been through several drafts. Later tonight I will take time to reflect on the weekend and the week to come. Mahatama Gandhi said. “As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world … as in being able to remake ourselves.” . Reflection gives us that opportunity every single day. Why not Embrace the Challenge, and try it this week?
Have a great one!