The Rewards of Reflection
Meaning: We started these pearls with the premise that all of us are on a leadership journey of growth and change. If I were to ask you, “Tell me about a time when you learned the most about leadership,” you would likely relate an experience. It might be a “first” or a “best” or a “worst” – but you would have a story to tell. Your stories and your experiences create your own pearls of leadership wisdom. Yet these pearls remain hidden until you think about them. “We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience,” said the late psychologist John Dewey. A few moments of reflection or meditation every day can give you the insights to grow and change.
Ideas for Action: Even if you’re not the reflective type, you can quickly learn. In April, I was on an executive coaching panel at a professional conference with David Peterson of Google. Peterson, who has written extensively about coaching, extolled the power of reflection and suggested four basic tasks of reflection: To look inward (what am I trying to accomplish?); look outward (what matters to others?); look back (what new things have I tried?); and look ahead (what will I do differently?). That’s it.
When I ask someone to take time for reflection, I often hear excuses: “I don’t have the time” or “I don’t like to write.” Yet not all reflections need to be written down, just practiced regularly. Here is Peterson’s formula for building a reflection habit: 1) Daily, for one minute; 2) Weekly, for five minutes; 3) Monthly, for 10 minutes; 4) Quarterly, for 15 minutes; 5) And annually, for one hour. Even if this is all you can spare, you can tap into the power that comes from creating a habit.
Consider this: most leadership development programs, seminars or initiatives now build in intentional reflection time (and it’s more than just a minute or two!). There’s sound science behind the practice. Physiologically, according to brain researcher James D. Zull, deep learning arises naturally from the structure of the brain itself. He points out that reflection engages the brain to search for connections — literally — to achieve comprehension. “Even if we experience something, it is hard to make meaning of it unless it engages our emotions,” Zull says.
Reflection is particularly important when trying a new skill or having a new experience. Afterward, whether you simply think about the experience or write it down, you begin practicing the type of introspection that’s characteristic of some of the world’s greatest thinkers – and its greatest leaders!
Above all, reflection gives credence to the most important voice in your daily affairs: your own. As the late Steve Jobs counseled graduates in his famous 2005 Stanford University commencement address: “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.”
Take some time today to reflect, to hear your inner voice and to learn. Your ongoing growth as a leader depends on it!