Returning from a global leadership intensive with participants from Africa, Asia and the U.S, I couldn’t help but be intrigued with how challenging it is for many of us, particularly those of us who live in the West, to invest time to reflect on our leadership experience, and what has contributed to it the most.
By ignoring such an important practice, we often overlook the potential significance of key connections, whether they are opportunities, problems, projects, or networks— and their relationship to where we are now and how they might be instrumental in shaping the trajectory of our organizations.
Some of the other participants described the importance of this reflective experience –
“It’s nice to look back at my journey and identify specific people and experiences that helped me become who I am now”.
“Perhaps for the first time in thirty years, I stopped long enough to understand how my strengths as a leader impact those I lead – positively and negatively”.
“I began to see a significant disconnect between what motivated me and what motivated other members of my team”.
“I obviously need to refocus how I manage my relationships. I have tended to take my interpersonal skills for granted, but realise I need to be more intentional in building stronger connections with those I work with”.
When we move immediately to the next thing on our list of priorities after concluding a meeting or project, it is often at the expense of examining whether or not things could have been done better; if the process could have been improved by including different people; or how it might have been possible to achieve a broader set of objectives longer-term.
Daniel Forrester addresses the pitfalls of this in his book, Consider: Harnessing the Power of Reflective Thinking in Your Organization.[i] He argues that when organizations fail to incentivize reflection, they are setting themselves up to achieve the same result they didn’t want in the first instance.
It is why Michael Watkins, author of The First 90 Days, also encourages leaders to adopt a simple framework that will help them accelerate their learning and match their strategy to their situation. In this way they can adapt to the changes they are likely to confront in their current position, as well as their next one.[ii]
Foundational to good decision-making is making reflection a core practice of our leadership. It helps us be more purposeful in exploring how things might be connected, why they are connected, and their relevance to what needs to happen moving forward. Below are some questions you might ask yourself –
[i] Daniel Patrick Forrester, Consider: Harnessing the Power of Reflective Thinking in Your Organization (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2011).
[ii] Michael Watkins, The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels (Boston, Massachusetts: Harvard Business School Press, 2003).