Leadership Reflection – What I Learned This Year

Many of us are reflectors.
We take time to think about what is happening in our worlds and understand that self-awareness and development matter.

Reflection: to think through the implications of action, or non-action; what went well; and the things we might have changed or may alter in the future provides opportunity for growth and change. Developing as a person and leader requires this type of reflection and consideration. Taking the time to reflect is an important step in development. If we continue to ‘just do’ and get caught up in the routines and day-to-day details it is easy for time to pass us by and miss the chance for growth. Making the time to reflect matters!

During the coaching relationships developed with many of my clients I have learned how important it is to allow people the time to think through the implications of our discussions; the challenges presented; and potential actions or solutions. Many people are unwilling or unable to commit to the initial thought and require time away from the moment to ponder the opportunities and options that exist. Working within your preferred space and style, doing what is both intuitively and consistent with what you know works, provides the greatest opportunity for growth. A lack of self-awareness about who you are will limit the benefits of reflection.

Reflection, or the process of critically thinking about our behaviors, attitudes, beliefs and values, has been identified by numerous researchers as an important part of any learning process, be it formal or informal. Although professionals may have learned a body of knowledge and pattern of practice, it may be difficult to apply them in unique, complex or uncertain situations. Continuous learning in practice occurs through reflection-in-action (thinking on one’s feet) as well as reflection-on-action (thinking upon completion of a project or particular activity). (1)

To reflect on what has been helps to understand your own strengths and potential development areas. To not consider these alternatives and opportunities to build self-awareness is limiting personally and inherently negative for your leadership development. Developing your leadership skills takes time and effort. There are no short-cuts or ‘tricks’ that are going to make you more aware or capable as a leader. But, there are steps you can take that enable meaningful growth.

Most authorities on leadership development understand the importance of assisting managers and leaders to engage in self-discovery and self reflection.

Recorded statements from philosophers about the need for self-awareness and reflection for those in leadership positions goes back thousands of years to ancient philosophers and teaches like Confucius, Socrates, Plato, Jesus and Mohammed. However, research has shown that self-reflection is possibly a manager’s least favourite activity.

There are two good reasons why managers and leaders should be concerned about learning about themselves. First, while some people, because of personality flaws, like narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychological personality disorders should never be allowed to lead others, most people can improve their leadership potential and performance by engaging in self-reflection. Second, research has shown there is no better bedrock for effective leadership than a secure understanding and sense of oneself.

Self-understanding also provides a sound basis for understanding other people – how could a leader be conscious of another’s need or have empathy with others without first having awareness of their own self? In other words, you must first have a mature understanding of who you are and why you behave in the ways you do, and to be secure in self-acceptance, before leading other people. (2)

Beyond reflection in the moment, one of the processes that I find very useful is to think through the last 12 months. This is a timely process to perform now, as 2015 draws to an end. So, what have I learned about myself, people, my business and the world around me throughout this year?

  • The most successful people I know are more likely to be ‘givers’ rather than ‘takers’. We all have needs and a degree of selfishness in what we do and want, however those who are truly successful (with success measured more in a spiritual way rather than through wants such as financial, status, and tangible preferences) for the most part put others needs and desires ahead of their own.

 

  • I am at my best when my relationships are solid and I work on them in practice. As an extrovert it is very important for me to maintain regular contact with my friends, colleagues and clients. Working from home has many pros and cons, however understanding what works best has allowed me to build a rhythm that minimises the risks and makes the most of the opportunities. Regular reflection and self-analysis has enabled this knowledge and various actions in response. The energy and benefit gained from these relationships is difficult to quantify as it is so significant, but I know in my heart and head that they matter greatly and I would be less of a person without these relationships.

 

  • Development takes effort! The friends and clients who I see real progress and self-development in make the time to focus on learning. There is a deliberateness to their actions. They delve, challenge themselves through reading widely and learn deeply. The people I know who actively pursue new thinking; discuss their thoughts with trusted friends and colleagues; are curious and open-minded about alternatives beyond what they already know; and seek to extend their understanding through application of effort, take the greatest steps forward. This success and progress is measured through their own self-analysis and most importantly, through those closest to them – others feel, see and note the change.

 

  • Authenticity, honesty and comfort in self are key to effective leadership. I still hear and see to many managers who remain deeply uncomfortable in who they are and what they represent. We all have moments of self-doubt and uncertainty. Perfection is unachievable. Bravado and insincerity provide little to relationships and trust. Yet, these attributes and traits remain common in management. Ultimately, the only person you are kidding with these types of behaviour is yourself and it has little long-term benefit or return.

Gaining wisdom from an experience requires reflection. In thinking back on the significant events of my life, experiences good and bad, it was the act of assigning meaning that has made all the difference for me. Reflection requires a type of introspection that goes beyond merely thinking, talking or complaining about our experiences. It is an effort to understand how the events of our life shape the way in which we see the world, ourselves and others. And it is essential for any leader. (3)

Do you make the time to regularly reflect on yourself and your world?

What have you learned during 2015?

 

Resources:

(1) Developing Future Leaders: The Role of Reflection in the Classroom

(2) Self-Reflection: The Key To Effective Leadership

(3) Leadership Character: The Role Of Reflection