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Reflection Series, Part IV: An Approach

3x5 Leadership_Leader Reflection Series

“Preparation and reflection must be the bookends of every experience we encounter as well as ones we offer our subordinates.” – Unknown

This is one of my personal favorite leadership quotes because it stresses the value of two often overlooked aspects of experiential learning. Preparing and reflecting are critical for maximizing learning from our experiences. Reflection, especially, is so often ignored in the actual execution of leader development, which I touch on in part II of this series.

This series aims to provide my perspective and lessons on what I’ve come to learn about reflection, specifically how to engage in it. Last week, in part III of the series, I shared several popular methods for reflection. Now, I provide a personal approach to incorporate a holistic reflective system into your learning and development. This is how I reflect on a routine basis.

Remember, reflection is highly individual and you may prefer to reflect in ways that I don’t and vice versa. My goal in sharing my personal reflective approach is to show you how certain reflective activity “puzzle pieces” can be pieced together to have a big impact. If you are new to this reflection series, I encourage you to start at the beginning, in part I, which introduces this abstract reflection concept. Continue reading → Reflection Series, Part IV: An Approach

Reflection Series, Part III: How Leaders Can Reflect

3x5 Leadership_Leader Reflection Series

Thus far in this reflection series, we’ve addressed what reflection is and why it is important for leaders. If you are new to this series, I encourage you to check out part I and part II of this series first.

Next, we begin to address how to actually engage in reflection. I’ve found these activities to be most effective in the continuous process of “collecting dots and connecting those dots.” The remaining parts to this series aim to materialize this abstract theory and turn it into tangible application.

Reflection Process Framework

Before addressing common reflective activities, I believe it is important to establish a reflection process framework to follow. In order to make reflection as beneficial as possible, the following four things should be met; they can serve as your reflection checklist. Continue reading → Reflection Series, Part III: How Leaders Can Reflect

Reflection Series, Part II: Why Reflecting Is Important

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). Continue reading → Reflection Series, Part II: Why Reflecting Is Important

Reflection Series, Part I: An Introduction to the Abstract

3x5 Leadership_Leader Reflection Series

How many of us can recall at least one instance of sitting in some lecture or professional development session where the speaker commented, “So, as you reflect on…” or “I challenge you to reflect on this matter this week and…”? Moreover, I personally have yet to find a formal leader development model that does not include some major component titled “reflection.” We cannot escape this word in any conversation relating to leadership or leader development.

So, if reflection is so important to leadership and leader development, how in the heck do we do it? When I think about reflection, I think about some abstract artistic process where a highly-creative leader comes up with a profound product or quote. I envision a leader like John Maxwell going into a room alone and emerging hours later covered in sweat and a whiteboard filled with his new “beautiful mind” revelations. I find this discouraging because I’m not known to be a creative person.

However, I’m a leader, therefore I must reflect, right? Short answer: Yes! Reflection is critical for effective and sustainable leader development and growth. Experience and new knowledge (such as from reading or formal education) alone is not sufficient for impactful leader growth. We need to deliberately take time to think about what we’ve experienced and learned, clarify and make meaning of the lesson, and be able to do something different in the future to improve our impact and performance as leaders. With that being said, reflection is much more of an art than a science. No two people reflect in the same way. Continue reading → Reflection Series, Part I: An Introduction to the Abstract

4 Questions to Make Your Organization and People Better

4 Questions to Make Your Organization and People Better_3x5 Leadership

A number of weeks ago, I asked readers for feedback about the blog through an online survey. I greatly appreciate your time and for sharing your honest thoughts. The #1 piece of feedback centered on practical application, how to materialize the ideas shared through each blog post. Many claimed they appreciated the amount of application found in the posts; others voiced a desire for even more. Message received; this post is strictly application and I will continue to maintain appropriate doses of practical application as I continue to write. Again, thanks for the feedback!

In the US Army, there is an unpopular, but necessary unit duty called Staff Duty. For those not familiar, this 24-hour shift encompasses non-commissioned officers (NCOs) and junior officers serving as the unit commander’s representative for any issue that arises during their tour of duty. This duty is shared by the junior and mid-level leaders within the organization, where most NCOs and officers complete a staff duty tour once every month to quarter. Responsibilities include receiving and escorting VIPs, receiving and managing notices to Soldiers from external agencies (such as the Red Cross), inspecting the unit areas for good order and discipline, managing any emergency that occurs that day (such as barracks maintenance emergencies), and anything else the commander deems necessary. Other military services have a similar duty, such as the Navy’s officer on watch. At the United States Military Academy (USMA), my current assignment, cadet sophomores fulfill this duty for each cadet company, known as the Cadet in Charge of Quarters (CCQ).

Often, this duty is viewed as a check-the-block event, where you conduct your duties, try and stay awake and engaged during your shift, and count the hours until your replacement arrives. However, I’ve come to realize that there is a lot of potential to incorporate leader development into staff duty-like shift assignments. Especially as a current Tactical Officer of USMA cadets, where I get limited touchpoints with cadets each day, I wanted to incorporate some form of leader development into this typically monotonous task. Continue reading → 4 Questions to Make Your Organization and People Better

Three New Benefits I Learned About Writing and Sharing

Benefits of Writing_3x5 Leadership

A number of other amateur writers and I have shared numerous thoughts on why we write, and moreover, have challenged our readers to do the same. From contributing to a community of practice, to writing as a means of learning, and forming your legacy, writing has its numerous benefits, both to your greater profession and to you personally.

I started my own writing and the 3×5 Leadership platform over 18 months ago under the premise of two ideas: 1) leader development occurs daily, not in a day, and 2) though my experiences are singular, the lessons from them certainly are not. With no real expectation that others would value, let alone read, my thoughts, I started to write in order to offer reflections from my experiences and recommended application to help others on their daily leader growth journey. Continue reading → Three New Benefits I Learned About Writing and Sharing

Character: The Necessary, Yet Often Ignored, Trait to Define Leaders of the 21st Century

The Character of 21st Century Leaders_3x5 Leadership

In May 1991, following Desert Storm and months before his retirement, GEN Norman Schwartzkopf gave a speech to United States Military Academy (USMA) Cadets. In it, he argued that the two essential traits that must define leaders of the 21st century are competence and character (I highly encourage you to check out the inspiring speech here, in parts one, two, and three). So much time, money, and effort are poured into developing leader competence to achieve performance capacity and organizational success. Hundreds of books, journals, podcasts, and blogs (to include this one) center around developing leader competence. Yet, we pay less attention to character development. I believe it is because character is so intangible, hard to define, and even difficult to determine its impact on an organization; I think it is easy to determine if someone has bad character but it is less clear to determine if they have good character.

Deliberately addressing character is an organizational and leader developer necessity; the lack of such attention is ultimately the root cause of our society’s seemingly extensive erosion of integrity and respect showcased by the many downfalls of high visibility leaders (to include military) and once respected celebrities. My previous brigade commander constantly reiterated to his subordinate leaders that “character counts more than resume.” Continue reading → Character: The Necessary, Yet Often Ignored, Trait to Define Leaders of the 21st Century

What Tools Are You Using for Your Leader Growth?

Basic CMYK

What is the primary tool you use to learn and grow as a leader?

How do you record key experiential lessons or ideas in the moment?

Finally, how do you maintain them for long-term retention and use?

I argue that every leader should define how they are learning and what tool(s) they use toward that effort.

In his blog, From the Green Notebook, Joe Byerly clearly defines his learning tool as the famous Army green notebook. Here, on 3×5 Leadership, I identify mine as the common 3×5 index card. I believe there is an important message conveyed on the value of defined learning tools when leader development blogs such as these are named after the author’s tool of choice.

After defining what their learning tool of choice is, I often see leaders struggle to make the next necessary step: to do something with the product. I don’t believe it’s terribly effective to keep a bookshelf of filled green notebooks that are likely untouched afterwards, or to keep a box full of hundreds of filled-out index cards somewhere on a shelf or closet. Further, like almost every Army leader, I too use a green notebook. However, it often becomes filled with daily urgent “to do” lists in addition to insightful leader lessons that I should remember years down the road. How do you separate those so the important lessons are not lost in the noise of the notebook daily tasks? To truly learn from the lessons you record, you need to make them easily accessible. I argue that you need to create a personal learning resource to centralize your valuable lessons. Continue reading → What Tools Are You Using for Your Leader Growth?

Writing as a Means of Learning

Writing as a Means of Learning_Franklin Annis post_3x5 Leadership

Guest post by Franklin C. Annis, EdD

When you think about learning, the act of writing typically isn’t one of the first thoughts that come to mind, but maybe it should be. There is a lot of aspects about writing for military self-development that makes it an extremely useful tool. The act of writing forces you to organize your thoughts, it develops a critical communication skill, it can be used to demonstrate expertise, it can be used to seek help in defining a problem, and test proposed solutions in front of a wider audience. For these reasons and more, every service member should consider publishing to build both their personal capabilities and expand the knowledge of the larger community.

In this article, I provide several justifications for service members to engage in writing and publishing. Hopefully this might start you on the path of writing for personal development and to contribute to our community of practice. Continue reading → Writing as a Means of Learning

Building A Community of Practice: How Are You Contributing to Our Learning Organization?

3x5 Leadership Community of Practice_1

Would you consider your organization and the people that comprise it as a learning organization? Personally, as a member of the US Army, I absolutely believe that we strive to be a learning organization. Amidst the myriad of ways that organizations can establish themselves as a learning one with systems and methods to do so, I want to address a critical question to you: what, then, are you doing to contribute to your organization’s learning? In professional networks, this is called “building a community of practice.”

A community of practice is a group of people who are bound together by the passion of some thing or practice, and desire to learn how to do it better as they regularly interact. Would you consider yourself a member of a community of practice? I argue that in reading this and subscribing to 3×5 Leadership, you are a member of a community of practice for organizational leadership, working to improve your organization and your life through leadership.

So, how are you contributing to your community of practice? There is a difference between being a member and actually contributing; the community is only valuable, and the organization is only learning, if its members are contributing. Continue reading → Building A Community of Practice: How Are You Contributing to Our Learning Organization?