3x5 Leadership_Leader Reflection Series

In part I of this reflection series, I introduced the act of reflecting and how it tends to be viewed as a magical, abstract concept, and less as a deliberate process that leaders can enact. I offered my definition of reflection and addressed the performing and learning dichotomy for leaders. If you haven’t check it out, start the series with part I here.

After defining reflection, it’s important to address why reflection is actually important. In part I, I stated that reflection is critical for effective and sustainable leader development and growth; experience and new knowledge alone is not sufficient for impactful leader growth. Yet, it is often hard to get leaders to commit to routine, deliberate reflection. I believe this is because our professional cultures are over-oriented on performance (we always need to be “doing something”), don’t understand the reflection process, and/or can’t see reflection’s return on investment (we often struggle to show others the product or value of our reflecting habits). This part of the series serves as my argument to others to commit to reflecting. Below I outline why reflection is important as to help readers understand its value and to encourage you to consider engaging reflection activities (which I introduce in part III).

In her Harvard Business Review article, Jennifer Porter states that, “The most useful reflection involves the conscious consideration and analysis of beliefs and actions for the purpose of learning. Reflection gives the brain an opportunity to pause amidst the chaos, untangle and sort through observations and experiences, consider multiple possible interpretations, and create meaning. This meaning becomes learning, which can then inform future mindsets and actions.” Reflective thinking improves our decision-making by grounding it in more coherent and clearer world-views or mental models than we can have by acting only in the moment.

Below are a few additional arguments when considering the value of leaders deliberately reflecting.

  • Reflection helps to complete and clarify thoughts or ideas. This is one reason why I write and share my thoughts on this blog. Blogging is actually a means for me to reflect on my ideas, clarify my thoughts, and ultimately complete them so I can produce a coherent blog post to share with others. I discuss this further in my blog post about my personal benefits of writing and sharing.
  • It is a way to practice and improve our critical-thinking and our problem-solving. In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell argues that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field or act. This can apply to our own critical-thinking and problem-solving; to improve in those areas, we need to practice. Reflecting is a routine way we can practice those behaviors.
  • As Tony Burgess, author of Taking the Guidon, taught me: reflection is not only bringing to light existing knowledge, but about creating new knowledge. It turns our experience into insight and lessons; it’s how we learn at the intrapersonal level.
  • In our digital age of data and information over-saturation, reflecting is a simple way to pause and prevent information overload. Leadership, especially today, demands periods of personal restraint and deep consideration. We must regularly turn off the noise and ask ourselves what’s important, what we stand for, and what kind of an example we want to set.
  • Reflection helps bridge the gap between our known professional knowledge and the demands of real-world performance. It’s a way to personally assess if our performance is sufficient and, if not, creating new attitudes and/or behaviors to bridge that gap.

Thus far in the series, I’ve defined reflection and argued for its value; we’ve covered the what and the why. My intent is that readers realize that we do not engage in reflection as much as we think and especially as much as we need to. Next, we finally cover the how. The remaining posts in this series aim to materialize reflection and offer tangible ways leaders can put it into action.

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