Why Reflective Leaders Drive Success and 5 Ways to Practice Reflection
If I had to describe the point of Human Leadership in a single word, it would be intentionality.
The Human Leadership operating model is about putting people first. To drive results, leaders must be intentional with how they treat people to honor their humanity and ensure they’re able to meet all their needs.
Today, I want to talk about the most important tool for being intentional: awareness.
Effective leaders are aware of the needs of their people, the organization, and themselves. They’re the best equipped to adapt to evolving situations (like, say, a global pandemic). They build stronger and deeper connections both within and outside of the organization. Most importantly, they know themselves well enough to make intentional leadership decisions.
All of this is crucial to effective leadership. You must be aware of yourself to become aware of others and connect your humanity to theirs. That’s why leading yourself first is one of the principles of the Human Leadership model.
So, how do you build self-awareness (and even a general sense of awareness)? One great method is reflection.
The Importance of Reflection
Reflection is a powerful tool that helps leaders to be present, self-aware, and connected to their teams and organizations. It’s an essential method to get to know yourself, which is a critical step to understanding how your leadership impacts those around you.
Research shows that leaders who reflect perform 23% higher than those who don’t. “Reflection has the potential to generate spillover effects to different but related tasks,” Giada Di Stefano, Francesca Gino, Gary Pisano, and Brad Staats state in their paper.
Even older research by Robert K. Greenleaf indicates that leaders should “withdraw and reorient” themselves to lead well.
By engaging in regular reflection, leaders can gain valuable insights into their motivations, biases, and areas for growth. You can then use those insights to create positive change and drive meaningful outcomes.
At this point, you might be wondering, “What’s so important to be aware of to be a Human Leader?” I’m glad you asked.
Questions for Reflection
The point of reflection is to build awareness of impact by looking to the past and present. Some categories to reflect on include:
When you have a deep understanding of the impact of your decisions, you are better equipped to make conscious choices that align your actions with your personal and organizational goals. Reflect on your actions, behaviors, and beliefs to identify patterns, uncover blind spots, and adjust your approach accordingly.
Questions to ask: What do my daily decisions reveal about my actions, behaviors, and beliefs? How do they impact those around me? How are they affecting my work relationships?
As Dr. Nicole Price points out in her thoughtful article on self-reflection and empathy, reflection enables you to develop a deeper understanding of others. Not only should we strive to understand our colleagues, but it behooves us to reflect on past leaders as well.
Think about the people from whom you learned certain actions, behaviors, and beliefs you associate with leadership. Reflect on what influence those associations have on your leadership style.
Questions to ask: What actions, behaviors, and beliefs have I observed from my leaders (past and current)? From my peers? How do their decisions impact me? How is my relationship with each of them? What can I observe from their successes? Their mistakes?
Beliefs are what drive our actions and behaviors. But not every belief we hold is true. Evaluate your beliefs and reflect on their origins to decide if they’re still serving you and your leadership goals.
Questions to ask: Which thoughts, emotions, and experiences are driving my beliefs? What beliefs work for me? Which ones are no longer serving me?
Without reflection, leaders may be prone to repeating the same mistakes and limiting their potential for growth and development. You can only learn from your mistakes if you reflect on them. Examine your past experiences and their outcomes to gain valuable insights into what worked and what didn’t.
Questions to ask: What are my strengths? In what areas can I improve? Who can I talk to for helpful feedback? What strategy can I use to overcome this challenge next time? How can I take responsibility for my actions? What steps can I take toward personal and professional growth?
5 Ways to Practice Reflection
Taking the time to reflect on your experiences, thoughts, and emotions, equips you to better empathize with your team members’ experiences and connect with them on a human level. This is essential for building trust, fostering collaboration, and creating a positive work environment.
That said, while it’s good for every leader to make time for it, reflection doesn’t look the same for every leader. It doesn’t necessarily matter what you do, as long as you’re effectively looking inward and learning from the experience. Here are five activities you can try to practice reflection:
Writing is a powerful tool for reflection, as it allows you to articulate your thoughts and emotions, gain clarity, and document your insights over time. I do my best reflecting when writing my thoughts out.
This can look however you want. You can write bullet point notes in a notebook, keep a long-form journal, or even create a digital document for reflection (although, research suggests we learn better through analog journaling because the physical act of writing engages different parts of our brain than typing).
There is something to be said for talking to yourself. Conversing with yourself out loud or speaking with people you trust can facilitate reflection by providing an opportunity for introspection and gaining different perspectives.
You can take notes while you talk or digitally record your voice to keep a record of your learning as you reflect.
Meditation and mindfulness practices are great ways to make space for reflection. Soothing activities like this are proven to help you quiet your mind, cultivate self-awareness, and focus on the present moment.
Taking walks or engaging in physical activities can stimulate creativity and provide a change of scenery conducive to reflection. The late, great Steve Jobs took walks in nature for both serious conversation and thinking time.
If you want to go deeper into reflecting on your leadership’s impact, you can conduct a review of your current skills and abilities. There are lots of ways to go about this, including the Five Whys, an 8D review, or a 360 review.
Evaluations can be overwhelming to start, so to help I’ve created the complimentary Human Leader Index™ (HLI), which offers a structured framework for self-reflection and assessment. The HLI enables you to measure your current leadership skills and comes with a personalized report to explain your results. Use the HLI report’s scoring data and prompting questions to reflect on your strengths and growth areas.
There is a lot more to being a great leader than meets the eye. For more leadership practices to reflect on, grab a copy of my book, Be Human, Lead Human: How to Connect People and Performance.
For more great tips and high-value leadership content, subscribe to my bi-weekly LinkedIn newsletter and visit my blog. If you learned something from this article, drop a comment below. I’m always thrilled to hear from you.
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