Saturday, February 19, 2011
The last of three parts: The Power of Reflection
With all the contemplating and questioning comes the art of reflection. I call it an art because I think it’s a beautiful and creative process. Reflection, however, is really a skill. It’s something that can be learned. Most importantly, something that has to learn how to climb its way up the leader’s priority ladder, up anybody’s priority ladder, regardless of position, field of expertise, level of influence or whatever other distinguishing factor.
Reflection is often thought of as something luxurious and something passive. Something you do if you really don’t know what else to do. Maybe I’m exaggerating slightly, but to make it clear: reflection is not for softies nor does it reflect inertia. And it certainly isn’t a waste of time. Reflection is actually an active process: it is thinking, pondering, considering, re-organizing and thereby often creating something new or realizing what is, why it is, and how great (or not) things are.
Back to the everyday reality of most managers and leaders, though. Often, you are too busy running from meeting to meeting, talking with stakeholders, implementing the business strategy, and keeping all other balls in the air. It is highly likely that you ‘find no time’ to reflect. For reflection to seriously take its place on your priority list, you must recognize the need and the power of reflection. As was described in parts 1 and 2, asking yourself questions, and asking the right questions, is crucial for learning, rejuvenating, creating, staying on the right track, changing tracks, and moving towards growth and change. Reflection is one of your key tools to accomplish just that.
Respectfully appreciating your busy reality, I advise you to make reflection a habit. Some people like to reflect during a staring contest with their backyard, others while walking the dog, still others while taking a brief break between meetings. Or you might prefer to reflect while taking a shower, while reading a book and relating it to your own leadership and business, or while driving back home from work, or while just sitting in your comfy chair without doing anything else. The “where” of your reflection isn’t exactly important. What matters is that you take time to step back, get into that helicopter, and look at your own thinking and acting, the results you are creating, and, most importantly, your underlying values and the purpose that it should be serving.
Stepping away from the problem and from your crazy daily schedule to reflect helps you to purposefully evaluate your leadership being and your being in general. It often frees creativity that lay buried deep under the many meetings, projects, deadlines, and appointments that may swamp your daily schedule. Stepping back from daily habits and routines helps you question the ‘why’ of these very habits and routines. Are they still useful, purposeful, the best possible choice? Reflection provides more perspectives and thereby more options and choices, which is what strategic leadership is all about.
Reflection can result in reconsidering fundamental assumptions on which your way of doing business or your leadership is based. It’s like asking the “why” question as Kenichi Ohmae suggested. Asking the why question over and over again, until you get to the bottom of the issue, value, or concern. Another advantage, if you needed one more: reflection helps you to see yourself more clearly and enables you to laugh about yourself – which many of us do too little of – and to see the bigger picture, sometimes even seeing a significantly different picture from before.
In short: reflection – an underused tool for leaders (and other humans). A powerful tool, for everyone.