Getting Reflection Right

"Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom." - Aristotle.

Self-awareness is a key component of leadership. It means we have a clear sense of our strengths and opportunities as well as our values and motivations. Self-awareness is also about looking externally at how we impact others.

Organizational psychologist and author Tasha Eurich describes self-awareness as a data-gathering-and-processing skill that we can build1. In her research on self-awareness, she found that individuals were able to increase their self-awareness by leveraging an introspective practice and getting honest feedback. She stresses the importance of having practices that help us pause and focus on ourselves in order to go deeper.

A more specific term for Eurich’s “introspective process” is reflection. And when approached in a particular way, reflection is a powerful tool for improving our self-awareness and becoming even better leaders.

WHY should we engage in reflection?

Reflection is a process that helps us set aside the time and space to think about what has been happening, how we have shown up, where our strengths and opportunities are emerging and how we are impacting others. Our days are busy and they keep our minds active. When we set aside time to reflect, we’re quieting the noise around us so we can really process events and experiences.

Reflection can help you deepen your understanding about things you’ve learned and apply your insights more effectively in the future. As leadership expert Warren Bennis said, “True understanding comes from reflecting on your experience2.”

WHEN should we engage in reflection?

I encourage leaders to reflect at times that work for them so that it can become a sustainable habit. For some, that looks like a daily reflection either before they leave work or at night before bed. For others, they pick one specific time each week when they know it will be useful such as Sunday night before the workweek begins. It’s most important that you find a time when you can create a quiet space for your mind and then keep up the practice consistently.

Reflection doesn’t have to feel burdensome, and it isn’t necessary to engage in long sessions every day in order to benefit. In fact, the Human Performance Institute recommends that focused and fully engaged reflection for just 5-10 minutes a few times a week can have a significant impact. More time than that can be better, but there is a point of diminishing returns. And you don’t want to create a habit that is so onerous that you avoid it altogether.

Start small and see how it feels.

HOW should we engage in reflection?

Reflection can look a little different to different people.

For some, it’s about having a regular journaling practice. They write down what they’ve learned about themselves, feedback they’ve gotten, and patterns in their own behavior that they’ve noticed. They review these notes over time and see what patterns emerge.

For other leaders, they like to process their reflections out loud. They find it more helpful to discuss their reflections with a partner who can serve as a sounding board. They bounce ideas around together and share feedback. I encourage leaders to still write down any insights that emerge from these conversations in order to increase the likelihood that they’ll be applied in the future.

WHAT should reflection look like?

I offer different reflection questions to leaders based on their needs and how frequently they intend to reflect. You can scan the suggested questions below and choose the ones that work for you:

Daily reflection questions:

  • When was I at my best today?
  • When was I at my worst today?
  • What do I know today that I didn’t yesterday? 
  • What encounter did I handle well / not well today? Why?
  • For what am I grateful?

Weekly reflection questions:

  • When was I at my best this week? When was I at my worst?
  • When did I have the most energy? When did I have the least energy? How did I renew my energy when it was low?
  • With whom did I improve a relationship this week? Is there anything I need to do to repair a relationship after an encounter this week?

Periodic reflection questions:

  • What are your greatest strengths? What are your biggest liabilities?
  • What have you accomplished that genuinely surprised you? When have you been most disappointed with your performance?
  • What is your best habit? What is your worst habit?
  • What activities give you the most energy? What tasks and activities do you dread most?
  • What type of work makes you feel most productive or proud?
  • What piece of constructive feedback have you heard from others most often?

End of project or stretch assignment reflection questions:

  • What went well? What was most challenging?
  • What did I learn? How did this experience improve my abilities? 
  • What relationships did I strengthen? 
  • How can I apply the lessons I learned in future work?

Creating a reflection practice that meets your needs can help you better capture your insights and build your self-awareness. A small amount of time invested in this practice will pay off into significant gains in how you lead yourself and others.


References:

  • 1Eurich, T. (2017). Insight: The surprising truth about how others see us, how we see ourselves, and why the answers matter more than we think. New York: Currency Books.
  • 2Bennis, W. (1989) On Becoming a Leader. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Pub. Co.
  • 3George, B. (2015). Discover Your True North. Hoboken NJ: Jossey-Bass.

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Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.