Incorporating a regular practice of reflection is an essential skill for personal and professional growth, and for developing a deeper level of self-awareness. As a leader, factoring in time to reflect helps you intentionally strive forwards towards the leader you want to be. It can reveal your leadership strengths and weaknesses and enable space to problem solve, think strategically, and understand your own behavioural patterns, all the while enabling you to critically review your leadership qualities for development areas.
"We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience" John Dewey
What is it?
Simply put, reflection is pausing to think. It’s a structured process aimed to deepen learning and understanding and create new or improved behaviours, mindsets and solutions.
How often do you get to the end of the day with no recollection of how your day started? Or finish a day of back to back meetings and can not recall what was agreed or who said what? That one day, blends into two, blends into a week, a month, a year….
Taking time to reflect periodically enables you to pause, take stock, recall and understand. It helps you to process information, improves your memory and instils learning. Research shows that leaders who take the time to reflect stand out in their ability to adapt, succeed and lead high performing teams.
So if it’s so beneficial, why aren’t more leaders prioritising the time?
Under pressure, time for reflection is the first thing to get canned. Leaders are busier than ever. Clients regularly tell me that ‘I know I should, but I just don’t have time. Things get in the way.’ That time reserved for reflection is the first thing that gets bumped to the back of the queue.
We have all been there. When you’re in crisis mode, when you’re overwhelmed, when your team is at breaking point, when your inbox simply is scaring you. The thought of stopping and reflecting is another thing to add to your to-do list.
In fact, it’s at this point we also let go of many other self-care rituals. Reflection, pausing and space are all self-care habits, and when dealing with conflicting priorities, uncertainty and developing a team, the leader’s ability to put their well-being first can also be impacted.
When you observe yourself saying ‘I don’t have the time’ or ‘I just need to get on’ or ‘I’ll do it when things have calmed down’ that is the moment to pause.
It is a complex role being a leader of any team, especially when managing remote teams. Those reflection spaces provide necessary thinking time, to check in with yourself, to recall, learn and intentionally move forward.
Here are a few tips to help you incorporate reflection into your day.
Reframe it as ‘productive’
Many leaders I work with initially view reflection as a lower priority than ‘the real work’, allowing reflection to become a ‘nice to have’. The expectation is that ‘when there is time, I’ll be able to reflect more.’ But as we know, that time rarely suddenly becomes available. Instead, we need to make it happen.
Research shows that those who make time for reflection make fewer mistakes, communicate more effectively and get further ahead. They are more patient leaders, opt for a coaching approach to empower their team and are better at setting boundaries.
Reframe ‘I don’t have time for that’ to ‘When I reflect, I’ll be even more productive.’
2. Build it into your schedule
Create a regular time for reflection, just as you would any other activity. Plan it into your diary at a time that works best for you. Set yourself up for success and create an environment that removes the obstacles to doing it. For some it may be at the beginning of the day before opening the laptop, it may be once you’ve finished your work. It may even work best away from work time.
Experiment with different times of day or even formats. You may find it useful to write notes or keep a journal, or you may prefer audio recording. Make it work for you.
And it doesn’t have to be for hours. Shorter, more regular practices are just as powerful.
3. Find an accountability partner
You don’t have to do it alone - once you commit to regular reflection, having someone aware of your intention can help keep you on track. Set a regular time with a colleague or peer, or even agree to discuss reflections with each other.
4. Structure your reflection
To really get the most out of your reflection, use a structure to support a deeper level of thinking. You could start with a few prompts, such as:
What went well today / in this meeting?
What would even better look like?
If I could start today again, what would I do differently?
If I put myself in a team member’s shoes for the day, what would I have observed?
What leadership skills have I used most this week?
How have my actions, behaviour and decisions aligned with the leader I want to be in the future?
You could also utilise a reflection model such as Boud et al (1994) ‘What, So What, Now What’.
5. Make it the norm
Building reflective practice into your meeting or organisational culture means everyone is set up for success. Make it the norm to reflect on projects, on personal and professional growth and on team development. You could use prompts to structure thinking around a particular project (what went well, what would we do differently, what challenges did we overcome, what skills did we use overcoming these challenges) or theme (what do we want to be known for, what sets us apart from other teams, what would be our team superpower, how do our daily actions take us towards our future goals).
Taking time to pause is even more important in today's busy work spaces. It is essential for the personal and professional growth of our leaders, but also supports an individual’s self-care. With some of these ideas, you can incorporate a successful reflective practice easily into your day or week to enable you to lead better and feel better whilst doing it.
If you’d like to know more, do get in touch.
Gemma Brown is a Professional Certified Coach (PCC) with the International Coach Federation, working with individuals and groups to navigate successfully through transitions - be it career, relationships or life in general. Her belief is that when we confidently bring our whole selves to all areas of life, anything is possible. Transitions exist in both our personal and business life, and so often, the two fiercely overlap. Coaching with Gemma focuses on you as a whole, enabling you to identify your strengths, build confidence and to live a life with increased purpose and direction. Gemma works face to face with clients in the Cambridge area as well as via Zoom. For more about Gemma, visit her 'About' page or contact her directly.