It has been said that we don’t learn from our mistakes. We learn from reflecting on them. Reflection is the intentional process of considering our actions within our given context and determining where we stood in our strengths and what opportunities exist for improvement. It is the chance to connect with our experience while examining those experiences from the lens of a learner – almost in third person.
Reflection isn’t easy. Brave leaders reflect. If we engage in true reflection, we must be open to reality even if we don’t like it. It calls on us to be emotionally vulnerable with ourselves and open to change. It invites us to take new steps in the future and to refine ourselves and our practice. Reflection is key to growth. And, I would venture to say that the absence of reflection constitutes the absence of strong leadership.
Dr. Paleana Neale, a member of the Forbes Council, stated, “Self-reflection, at its simplest, means taking time to slow down and think about you and your experiences, as part of increasing your self-awareness, learning and growth… It involves contemplating your current level of skills, strengths, weaknesses, behavioral patterns and how you seek to influence others. It is also about exploring and getting clarity on your values, goals and ambitions. All this serves to increase your self-awareness, alignment, authenticity, learning and growth. Self-reflection also accelerates improvement in your leadership skills and practice — including your emotional intelligence — and enables you to better understand others.”
With that in mind, Neale goes on to share tips for designing a leadership self-reflection practice. Here are a few I encourage you to consider:
- Set an intention to reflect continuously. Reflection doesn’t have to be a long process. Create a habit of reflecting at a specific time each day. For some it may be in the morning as a way of setting their day’s intention. For others it may be at the end of the workday in preparation for the next. When we reflect is not as important as regularly doing it.
- Create a prompt or two that you can use to start your thinking. At the end of a meeting, you could ask yourself, “How did that go? What did I learn? What would I do differently in the future? How did I make others feel?” If reflecting at the end of a week, maybe ask, “What went well this week? If I could do something over again, what would it be and why?” Prompts are just easy ways to get the juices flowing.
- Be honest, specific and detailed. When reflecting on yourself or your practice, it is human nature to simultaneously try to justify to ourselves why we did what we did. Instead, try to set that aside and consider things from an objective perspective. Be detailed in your reflection. Consider writing it down to slow the thought process. The more honest and specific you are, the easier you’ll be able to identify what next steps will help you grow.
Building a reflective practice not only builds your skill set and emotional intelligence as a leader, but it is also an act of self-care. Leadership is focused so squarely on serving others. But we only have the wherewithal to serve if we ensure our internal bucket is full and that we take time to occasionally fill it. May we all intentionally create the time and space to reflect, so that we can not only improve but care for ourselves along the way.
Reference: Neale, P. (2021). Seven Tips for Designing A Leadership Reflective Practice.
DR. STEVEN WURTZ
Chief Academic Officer