With the high pressures of modern leadership, it’s easy to believe there’s no time to reflect on your practice, even though great leaders know it helps them improve.
During my career, I’ve spent quite a bit of time reflecting on my practice, and helped my clients do the same. Since I started running my own business, Ad Florem, two years ago, I also share my reflections in my blogs, where I pass on what I learn from working with senior leaders to improve their own leadership practice.
Recently, I was explaining to a group of senior leaders how all the stories in my blogs are real stories from real people I have worked with, and how I use my blogs to share my reflective practice. That’s when one leader asked, “how do you find the time to reflect?”
Even though only one member of the group asked this question, I noticed how many other leaders wanted to know the answer too! It quickly became apparent that reflective practice was not as common as I’d originally thought, in particular reflecting on what had gone well.
We continued the conversation, with some leaders sharing how they expected to hear what’s going well (or what’s not going well) from their manager. As long as they didn’t get a call or meeting request from their manager, then they assumed they were doing a good job. Others shared how there was simply no time available to sit and reflect on their leadership practice, the impact they were having, and the difference they were making to themselves and others around them.
We then discussed how they felt about reflective practice, and they quickly realised they had fallen into the trap of thinking it was something that took a long time. Because they were working so fast, they didn’t believe they had the time to slow down and reflect.
To challenge this assumption, I shared 3 questions and asked them to answer them in 3 minutes. The clock was set, and they reflected on themselves for 3 minutes.
There are numerous reflective practice models available, however my simple reflective practice consists of 3 questions I’ve asked myself and others (including my children) for the last 20 years:
I explained that the word ‘think’ can be used interchangeably with the word ‘feel’ depending on the person, as some people respond more positively to ‘feel’ questions than ‘think’ questions.
The leaders spent 3 minutes reflecting, and noticed how much data they gathered in such a short space of time. They noticed how the questions encouraged them to look within themselves, rather than focusing on the end product, i.e. the piece of work, project or task. They shared how this process enabled them to very quickly reflect on their day-to-day practice and observe how they were thinking, and feeling. Even though some leaders initially found it difficult to answer what they had done well, they could see how this would become easier they more they started to look within themselves for positives.
They realised how simple it is to reflect ‘on the spot’ without the practice eating into their day, so they committed to incorporate reflection into their daily practice, in particular after meetings, phone calls, presentations, interviews and writing reports.
No matter how busy you are, there’s always time to reflect. Just asking these 3 questions helps you take personal ownership of your practice, and ‘check-in’ with yourself about how you’re thinking or feeling about the situation you’ve just experienced. The process of reflection helps raise your self-awareness, which will inevitably improve the impact and efficiency of your leadership over time.