Can you remember a time when you have learnt the most in the shortest possible time? How did that happen for you? When? Where? Who inspired the learning or the change? How did you make sense of it? If the thing that distinguishes one leader from another is the ability to learn new skills, then learning HOW you learn new skills is critical to your development. Learning your learning process is key to leadership development. Building in the discipline and joy of reflection serves your learning process.
Leaders develop a rhythm that allows them to reflect, learn, internalise and act. There is a great deal of research around action | reflection models, and the general idea is to learn the most in the quickest possible time by thinking about what worked, what didn’t and how you’d like it to be better. The real challenge isn’t learning the lesson though, the real challenge lies in making the deep internal behavioural change so that you lead differently, and you learn how you learn to lead differently.
There are reasons you wouldn’t reflect. You might not know how. You might not be willing to experience introspection at that level. You might even be scared at what you’ll find when you actually do reflect. You could be running an unconscious script that forces you to avoid this discipline. You might say you are “too busy”. Reflection is a challenge, and it’s important.
These might make sense to you, they do to me.
- Reflection is hard when you check your smartphone an average of 150 times a day.
- Reflection is hard when you have created an expectation of immediate accessibility by our team or from your team.
- Reflection is hard when you’ve trained your soul to manage noise rather than sit in silence.
- Reflection is hard when your measure of effectiveness is activity; not fruitfulness.
- Reflection is hard when you simply don’t make time for reflection.
These four steps will help you make reflection more of a natural rhythm to your leadership. Do them and you’ll enjoy not just the benefit of personal transformation but the multiplication of how your growth serves many others.
Have a regular time and place to exercise disciplined reflection.
Seems simple doesn’t it. Almost too simple. So simple many leaders I know simply don’t do it. Your mind and body have the ability to anchor themselves to a place, a belief, a discipline and the emotions that go with it.
Having a regular time and a regular place for reflection speeds up the process for you. When you have the tools (see point two) and the environment. Certain music, even a particular pen. All of these small things add up to a speedier process. You get in the zone quicker. Your mind and your body know why you are there and what you are hoping to accomplish. Each time you slip into that space you fire up the format you already know how to do.
Create a zone, a seat, a cafe, some tools all designed to help you slip quickly and effectively into a reflection zone.
Have a place to capture your thoughts on and off task.
Being able to have a stream of consciousness is essential. My colleague Greg Attwells reminded me that the brain isn’t meant to hold ideas, it’s meant to create them. On that basis there needs to be another place to hold the idea. Or as I like to put it. “I remember to forget because I have a place that remembers.”
This is highly subjective so the best advice is ‘do what works best for you’. Experiment until you find something you’re proud of. Test its usefulness, while it serves you, do it. When it stops working, change it.
That said, I use two tools that are separate and combined. I use Evernote religiously to capture and tag as much as I can possibly remember to forget. Evernote has become the one place I record almost everything related to my world. Including lessons learned, personal growth, blog ideas and issues to focus on.
The second tool I use is the moleskin and in this book I delight in the manual, kinaesthetic discipline of writing, creating, scribbling, crossing out and doing over. I have terrible handwriting so this almost never sees the light of day (unless I publish a circulated model that I’ve used in training). Being able to write, draw, cross out, rewrite, start a new page and doing it all over again is refreshing in the process of reflection because it serves the PROCESS, NOT THE OUTCOME.
Both these tools set up reflection times to be more focused and more productive. They also help you to remember to forget. When it’s written down you can refer to it rather than remember it.
Follow a simple process for reflection.
Having a system to follow connects to having a regular place to reflect and a strategy for dealing with distractions. When you have a ‘colour by numbers’ way of working through your time of reflection, you train your brain to become more focused more quickly. You can quickly begin to reflect, listen to your internal dialogue, work out resources, find ways forward and map out a plan.
When you have a process, you also position yourself to manage the distractions. Switch off social media. My strong suggestion is pen and paper. It just helps to keep the experience organic and kinaesthetic. Still, find what works best for you, and stick to it until you have natural competence.
- What’s working? Why?
- What’s not working? Why not?
- How would I like it to be?
- What options do I have to move towards that?
- Where can I utilise resources to help take the next step?
- Who do I need to enrol as a ‘raving fan’ of my next steps?
- What specifically will I do differently right now?
The one suggestion I’d make here is to have one page dedicated to the things you think of during the process that are distractions at the time, but overall important to remember. Just write them down and go back to the task at hand.
Be disciplined in the deep internalisation of new learnings.
It’s one thing to reflect. It’s entirely another to build these learnings into your being. Ben Franklin had thirteen virtues that he focused on one week at a time four times a year. He blocked out all other distractions and made this one virtue his focus.This allowed him to let one thing be a priority and be released from any other focus. Narrow and deep, learn the new way of being and behaving and move to the next focus.
This requires that you push some things aside to focus on the very specific learning for a period of time. Dr Caroline Leaf says in her book, Switch On Your Brain that you can make deep changes by placing your focus on the right things for 4 – 15 minutes per day. That’s significantly less than many people spend on their handheld smartphone!
What practical steps will help with making the new learnings new behaviours?
- Tell a trusted friend what you are learning.
- Ask them for feedback on your progress.
- Give them permission to keep you on track.
- Ask them to point it out to you when you are doing it well.
This last step is essential. One of the things we look for in the leading and learning process is positive reinforcement. To be told what you are doing well is a deeply edifying and affirming experience. Ask for specific feedback and a reason for why they are seeing it. We lean in to positive reinforcement when we get it, there’s a deep part of us that loves (craves even) to be reminded of what we are doing well.
We also get evidence of progress, and in the realm of leadership and personal growth this is a currency all of its own. The more evidence we get of positive progress, the more likely we are to continue down that path of change, growth and learning.
Reflection is the discipline that opens the doorway for transformation. Taking the time to think, reflect, focus and identify areas of development, will have a multiplier effect on your personal growth and your growth as a leader. Knowing what to focus on and knowing what you want it to look like will serve your development pathway significantly. Look forward to the times of looking in, because they are the opportunities to move ahead.
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