“Happy New Year!”
This time of year, and specifically those words, often lead one through a customary self-reflection of the previous year—personally and professionally—with recollections of the good, the bad, and the indifferent in hopes of setting new goals. January 1st brings optimism for a new beginning, the perspective of a fresh start and, with that, the potential of new and successful outcomes.
With the custom of setting new year’s resolutions, the new year makes one stop and commit to acknowledging what he or she would like to do better and/or accomplish in the new year. While it is helpful to look at this time of year as a fresh start to confront some longed-for and set resolutions consistent with those, I would argue that—in leadership—every new day is an opportunity for the same exercise. For those who like to reach the point of the day where they can turn off their work brain when the work is completed, this may be a challenging suggestion. However, I believe that there is value in reflecting on each day—to extract the lessons learned and celebrate the successes.
Why don’t more people prescribe to frequent reflection? I have heard from colleagues over the years that they don’t really know how to fully reflect. They admit that they can replay the day, but they don’t really know what to do beyond that. Reflection requires personal responsibility, and with that comes vulnerability. If the vulnerability then leads to defensiveness, the reflection becomes useless. So, to find the return for your investment in daily self-reflection, you must be aware of how to get the most from the time.
To clarify, self-reflection is not about lamenting about your inadequacies. Instead, it is about self-management for the purposes of self-improvement. Experiences breed knowledge, but it is being able to take time to extract the lessons learned that is important to ensure personal learning from day to day. Being self-aware while also looking at your day through the lens of a video playback are the tenets of true self-reflection. One would also argue this: if you don’t know yourself, you cannot lead yourself. And in turn, if you cannot lead yourself, how can you lead other people?
Self-reflection will make you a better leader, but if you find yourself making excuses for the value in the process of reflection, consider that you can conquer this adversity with a few simple actions:
- Find a reflective practice that works for you. You may be someone who likes to journal, or you may be someone who likes to sit quietly and just think. There also are those who prefer to talk with someone else to process their thoughts. Regardless of which type you are, commit to a practice—or a few!
- Make time to reflect. Consider scheduling in the time to reflect to avoid making other things a priority and ultimately avoiding the process. Also begin by scheduling a small chunk of time so that you don’t overcommit and thus find it a burden where the fruits are not worth the labor.
- Challenge yourself. To get the most from reflection, you need to consider other perspectives and examine your thoughts and beliefs. In fact, it is helpful to think about the opposite of what you believe sometimes and challenge yourself to evaluate from that lens.
- Just do it. Nike’s explicit slogan said it best: hold yourself accountable to making time for self- reflection.
Di Stefano, Gino, Pisano & Staats (2016) conducted research on the impact of reflection on employee’s learning processes and shared, “Our personal experience is that individuals of all ages may not treat these exercises with much seriousness; however, our findings suggest that they should.” Their research findings supported a direct positive impact on employee performance when time was allocated to reflection.
Peter Drucker summed up the significance of reflection this way: “Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection, will come even more effective action.