I recently found a quote on reflection which got me considering about the importance of reflection as a leader and why it makes the difference between leadership stagnation and leadership growth.
The simple anonymous quote is “Reflection, looking back, so looking forward is clearer.”
If you lead others I bet you´ve wanted to find more time in your diary to reflect on your team, your performance and how to achieve your goals.
However, it isn’t easy to find that time. I´ve often heard leaders say things like:
“I wish I had more time to think about my role” or
“It would be great to have some thinking time but there´s far to much to do”.
I remember saying this to myself on many occasions when I was leading teams.
There will always be important demands every day that create extra pressure, squeeze your time and leave you with little time to reflect.
Fixing and improving the work of your team.
Handling conflict and miscommunication.
The list goes on.
Many of these demands reoccur and sap your efficiency. Making reflection a priority has a psychological benefit for leaders and practical dividends. If you do make this a routine it will improve your team´s impact and your leadership influence.
Ultimately, reflection is about you being curious about your role as a leader. It´s about being mindful and aware of the behaviours, circumstances and systems shaping you as a leader. Carrying out the practice of reflection is one way of looking back to look forward and know what direction you should head in.
Some benefits of reflection
Reflection gives you the space to observe how you´ve behaved in the face of specific situations as a leader and colleague.
It´s essential as it gives you insights into your strengths and weaknesses, and where you might be diluting your potential or offering less value. This could be for many different reasons – emotional and practical. But without reflecting it´s hard to specify these reasons and factors.
Reflection can help you observe how well you communicate with your team. This is important because refining your communication style can help you to persuade or influence others, so you secure their support to deliver your strategic goals.
Reflection gives you the space to understand how well or not you and your team have responded to old or new challenges. This matters as the value you contribute as a leader is one of the most important things a leader is judged on. Trying to find the opportunity to consistently add value for your organization, team or clients, in familiar and new challenges is where you can increase your impact.
Reflection also gives you the space to think about your professional and personal values (and what they are). This is vital to explore if your values are still a good fit with the organisation you´re working for, the market you operate in and the customers/stakeholders you serve.
You don´t want to be working somewhere if it really doesn´t come anywhere near fitting with who you really are. It´s better to know that and make a solid plan to exit a company or industry. If you are working somewhere you don´t want to be, because there is a fundamental misalignment between the personal you and the professional you, it will lead to stress, conflict, frustration and less value for everyone.
In general, reflection helps to reduce stress, minimise inefficiency, challenge your biases, and improve your leadership impact. It may even have benefits for your personal life, self-confidence and sense of self.
When you go through a process of reflection it helps you to refocus your leadership abilities for yourself and your team.
It enables you to think deeply about whether you are being the kind of leader that you want to be and that you say you are.
In addition, if your team´s experience of how you communicate with them is poor, they will think interacting with you is a pain, not a pleasure. I wrote an article on why good communication is important if you want to make life easier for your team. Check it out if you want more to explore this point more.
Make reflection a normal part of your role
Taking the time to reflect will also help you to course correct the direction of travel for your team.
It doesn’t have to be so hard to carve out the time to reflect. I know the pressure to keep delivering sometimes seem endless, but if reflection will help you deliver better, with less stress and more impact, then creating a reflection routine is worth it.
Don’t go to the extra meeting. Take the time to reflect instead. Ask yourself and your team if you are definitely needed at a meeting, what they´d like your view on, and what input they are hoping for from you. Often your team can handle it without you.
Whilst your view is necessary at some point, it´s better to offer advice on a clear recommendation or an developed idea so you can offer very focused help as a leader.
Could you get into the office a little bit earlier or later once a week to give yourself the mental and physical space to reflect? If you are anxious about presentism and what others may think you need to get over that. You´re adding value to your team by doing what a leader should do – which is thinking strategically and trying to help others be high performers.
Also, think about what the best time of day is for you to reflect. Is it early in the morning before the day takes off and the office gets busy? It could be your energy level is higher later in the day. Think about that, as if you are exhausted at the end of each day or week reflection might be the last thing you want to do.
In addition, if you are commuting as part of a hybrid model of work post-Covid, why not use one of your commuter journeys every week as a space to reflect before you arrive at the office on how you are showing up as a leader.
How to reflect as a leader
It’s all well and good saying reflection is important, and leaders should do more of it, but what could you reflect on as a leader when you have the space to do so?
To make deliberate reflection a good use of your time, it´s necessary to focus on the right things and right kinds of questions. Otherwise, you won’t see the value of it and won’t make it a habit.
When I coach clients I encourage them to reflect on the areas they find difficult and uncomfortable. Not only the positive and nice and fluffy things. Improvement and growth often comes from confronting what´s challenging and finding ways to resolve or move around it. You´ll save yourself a lot of energy and time and in the long run it´s better because you can evolve as a leader and a person.
There might be a tendency to get stuck thinking about the negatives of a situation past a point that is useful. That won´t help your confidence as a leader. Don´t forget the brain tends to focus on the negative (it´s called negativity bias) so be careful about getting stuck in a loop of self-criticism and doubt.
The point of reflection isn´t to brood over things. That will only lead you towards worry, anxiety and resentment. Reflection is, as the quote at the start of this article said, about looking back so you can go forward.
To move forward and reflect in a way that´s productive, you could try the following.
Here are four quick suggestions.
First, look at the events of the week or even the events of each day. Ask yourself could I have done things in a different way? Could I have done things better? I always ask clients what got in the way of doing things differently or better? It´s a crucial question as it will force you to get real about practical obstacles diluting your performance. Then you can identify simple solutions and a plan to create new leadership habits.
You can take the insights into the following week to help you try and do things in a better way.
Second, try to get some independent feedback from colleagues or if it’s possible from your team and to use those insights, to help you think about how you show up as a leader, how others perceive you and where you might want to tweak or change your whole style of leadership.
Third, what if you don´t want to speak to anyone about how you are leading? Then you can try journaling and writing down your thoughts to force yourself to reflect. Thinking about some of the issues raised in this blog might unlock a process of reflection for you. Hopefully, you´ll be inspired to ask yourself more questions.
Finally, if the other suggestions don´t float your boat, then even reading some articles on leadership, digesting podcasts on the theme or considering some ideas could be valuable food for thought to help you gain insights. These insights could help you think again about how you show up as a leader and to broaden your idea of what it means to be an effective and a good leader.
Whenever you are ready…
Want some help on learning how to reflect as a leader? Get in contact with me.
If you ever feel that you want to improve your ability as a leader or there´s a need for your organisation to reflect on leadership in more depth, consider:
- Working with me via a formal one to one leadership coaching programme to help you with your strategic thinking and practice positive leadership.
- An Influential Leaders workshop that will challenge your team, equip them with tools and help create the foundation for a common leadership culture.
- Getting in contact to discuss a keynote speech or presentation at an upcoming awayday or social event to spark ideas and help colleagues to think their role as leaders.
All information can be read here or I can send you more detail directly if you message me.
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Check out some other articles on leadership and other topics that I’ve written and don´t forget to subscribe to get new content with insights and tips direct to your inbox!
- If you really want to have a big impact as a leader you must focus on clarity.
- How to make life easier for your team: improve your communication.