Reflection: the Secret Skill of Top Leaders
Kendall Langston, Strategic Advisor to Business Leaders & High Performance Leadership Coach tells us why he believes reflection is a critical tool for a leader.
I am lucky enough to work with a number of very effective professional leaders (Chief Executives, Founding/Managing Directors & Board Chairs) as they seek to perform & stay at the top of their game. These people are leading high performance teams and growing influential brands.
Most leaders find the reality of leading to be a lonely place. Many seek a confidential sounding board that helps and supports their thinking in a supportive coaching environment away from their work place, their work team & their Board of Directors. They are looking to invest in themselves and in doing so the health and well being of those people and organisations they lead.
REFLECTION & CLARITY
Whilst specific situations vary there is always a start point of seeking to be better at leading themselves. It stands to reason that if you can't lead yourself extremely well then there is no way you will lead others at a high level. There has to be balance. Often while sitting and listening to a CEO articulate an issue, situation or people problem they face, they will say “You know what just saying that out loud has given me the clarity I need to make the decision.” The process of reflection is a powerful leadership tool so how do you make it part of what you do?
Reflection is a critical skill for any leader to have and it is always among the first few things that are discussed when leaders seek personal development. In fact there is a considerable body of research that backs this up. This article from HBR: Want to be an Outstanding Leader? Keep a Journal outlines just how powerful this tool is. It has some great suggestions and methodology and online there are many more such articles.
I have personally kept a reflections journal (pictured above) for the last 4 years. It provides insights, clarity and decisions for me in my leadership roles.
KENDALL'S TIPS FOR KEEPING A JOURNAL
- I find an actual hard copy journal and hand writing is far more effective than online options I have tried in the past. Use a journal with blank pages.
- I set aside regular quiet time to update and reflect on what I am seeing and how I am feeling about my role and the people I lead & influence. I actually tend to use air flights as the time to do this i.e. travelling to or from Auckland etc. On a recent return flight from the USA I wrote 14 pages of reflections, ideas, lessons learnt, observations about people I had met and who had influenced me.
- I tend to write based against my Purpose and Values as this provides a framework. Often as I reflect on situations, I question whether I am living my Purpose and Values. This process alone can provide clarity to difficult decisions or provide the reflection that a decision I have made was the right one.
- Focussing on the situation and how I am feeling about it allows me to deal with the big issues that tend to keep you awake at night. It allows closure and to reflect on not only my actions, but the actions of others.
- Every 6 months or so I read back over my journey. When you do this you see how far you have come in the way and level you think at, plus exactly what you have achieved. It serves as a story about your journey.
- Use clever titles such as “What am I seeing?', “What lessons did I learn here?”, “What do I need to change?”, “Did I live my Purpose & Values in this situation?”, “Why did this not work?”.
- Capturing lessons learnt is vital to ensure the same mistakes are not made time & time again. It means different outcomes occur rather than just those that don't work.
- I use this journal when I seek one on one coaching to keep me at the top of my game.
NEW HABITS TAKE TIME
Like all habits it initially takes disciplined focus to carry your notebook and to set aside regular time to reflect. Supporting other leaders to do this also takes time. Some are naturally good at it, whilst others need help to be able to see that bigger picture & what is really going on. Over time this becomes just part of who we are and what we do. Over time these CEO's use the same skills to help individuals and teams within their organisation to reflect, learn and grow. The best leaders are the best managers, mentors & coaches. The best leaders develop other leaders.
In this space the focus needs to be on behavioural competencies rather than technical ones. CEO's will always talk about people (developing others, supporting them with change, altering behaviours, dealing with poor performance, developing a great culture, getting others to step up, building a sense of team) and the softer skills rather than the technical skills. This tends to be because we get taught technical skills all through life, education & work but no one teaches us the soft/people skills unless we are lucky enough to have good mentors, teachers or a work environment that invests heavily in leadership development. They are always seeking to develop their skills as a generalist leader rather than those of a technical specialist.