Tanveer Naseer

Leadership Coach, Speaker, and Writer

The Power of Reflection in Leadership

Photo courtesy of hael0

The wise man at the top of the mountain – it’s a timeless image many of us are familiar with when we think of the road to wisdom. Most stories about the wise man on the mountain involve someone climbing up to the summit to seek the elderly man’s counsel. These stories often serve as a metaphor for the journey each of us must take in the pursuit for greater understanding and awareness, with the wise man representing who we will become through this process. And yet, if we examine this tale from the perspective of the wise man, we’d find that there are also some valuable insights on the importance making time for reflection.

In terms of the seeker, having the wise man at the top of a mountain makes sense as it implies a challenge to reach this source of knowledge and insight. And yet, there’s an important reason why being at the top of the mountain is beneficial for the wise man as well. From his position at the summit, the wise man is able to take in the full view of his surroundings. Instead of getting caught up in the details, his focus has shifted to understanding the bigger picture, of examining how everything relates and interacts. Being up on the top of the mountain allows the wise man to be free from the distractions found in the village below so that he can instead reflect on the questions in his mind in the hope of finding some answers, if not a greater sense of awareness of the situation.

Like the wise man, it’s important that those in leadership positions take time to reflect on what’s happened so far, to review past mistakes in order to understand why things didn’t work out and to evaluate whether changes should be made to the current course of action.

Unfortunately, there’s not enough emphasis in the business world about the need for leaders to make time in their day for reflection. In fact, thanks to today’s accelerated pace in the workplace, a greater focus is being put on a leader’s ability to react fast to changes and making quick decisions for their organization. While the ability to think quick on one’s feet is certainly a valuable trait for a leader to demonstrate, it’s also important that leaders develop the habit of putting aside time during their day to reflect not only on current decisions their organization needs to make, but also to review past mistakes to see what lessons their company can gain from that experience.

Of course, it’s hardly practical to climb to the top of mountains on a regular basis, but there are measures you can take make time for reflection:

1. Schedule time in your day for reflection
As you would for any important task you need to perform in your day, scheduling time for reflection is a good first step to start developing the habit of reserving time to stop and review. Again, given the hurried pace of today’s workplace, it’s hard to ensure that we’re giving ourselves time to reflect on past and present decisions. By blocking off time in our schedule for reflection, we’re giving ourselves that opportunity to address some of those questions that need our attention and focus before we move ahead.

2. Make sure you remove any distractions
As we saw in the story of the wise man, it’s not enough to make time for reflection; we also have to be free of any distractions or interruptions. As such, it’s important that in these moments spent on reflection that you remove any distractions in your environment, such as turning off any computer notifications, not answering the phone and advising your team members that you’re unavailable during this time. If your office setting provides too many distractions, find yourself a quiet spot where you won’t be disturbed during this period of reflection.

3. Prepare a list of questions to reflect on
Now that you have this designated time for reflection, how do you start this process? A good place to start is by asking questions, questions about the results your team has achieved so far, how it aligns with your business vision, why certain projects failed and what your company can do differently the next time.

To help get started, create a list of questions revolving around an issue that’s important to you or your organization. This will also make sure your time is spent on reflection and not on other tasks or diversions.

4. Make this a part of your work routine
We all know that eating well and exercising on a regular basis is important to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Similarly, it’s important that leaders make a regular effort to take time to reflect on the decisions they make and the impact it has on the health of the organization.

Part of the responsibility that comes with leadership is being able to make the right choices and decisions to ensure the continued growth and development of your company. Making time to reflect on past decisions and mistakes, and allowing yourself the opportunity to learn from it, is a critical step to this process and your ability to effectively lead others.

What’s been your experience in reflecting? What other steps have you used to encourage taking time to reflect on your decisions and the choices you have to make?

 

Click here to subscribe to my blog so you can get my latest posts sent directly to your inbox.

16 Comments » | Tags: , , , , , | May 3, 2010 by |

16 Comments
  1. On May 3rd, 2010 at 11:10 AM Jim Matorin said:

    Tanveer:

    A reflection exercise I adhere to post-events, road trips, etc. is to corkscrew which is basically asking myself four questions:

    What happened?
    Why did it happen?
    What did I learn?
    What would I do differently next time?

    It is always worth the while to corkscrew vs. just rushing into the next activity or passage of business doing the same old thing.

    Jimmy

  2. On May 3rd, 2010 at 10:40 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    You're absolutely right, Jimmy, especially when there's so much talk out there about the value for companies to fail. While it's true that certain failures can be helpful in identifying unanticipated issues or things that need to be improved before going large-scale, it's hard for those lessons to really be found unless we take time to reflect on the experience and ask ourselves questions about it to discover those ideas.

    Thanks for sharing the process you use for reflection, Jimmy.

  3. On May 3rd, 2010 at 4:05 PM John Haydon said:

    Tanveer – Excellent post – again!

    It seems like many people (including myself at times) are 100% focused on taking action, or being distracted. Without taking time to reflect, time get's wasted taking action that doesn't make sense (doing more of something with more intensity is not always the best approach).

  4. On May 4th, 2010 at 12:21 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks John; I appreciate that.

    You’re right that it serves little purpose to keep pursuing an action if the purpose or benefit in doing it is no longer there, something that is difficult to gauge without taking time to reflect and review. I’m sure we all know a few people who are so busy putting out fires that they feel they can’t make time to reflect. And yet, as any firefighter who works on putting forest fires will tell you, it’s not enough to put out the fires that are burning; you also have to work at preventing others from starting.

    While we might feel that we don’t have time to reflect, the problem is that all we will be doing is reacting to new fires instead of reflecting on what’s the cause behind them.

    Thanks again, John, for sharing your thoughts on this piece.

  5. On May 4th, 2010 at 5:18 AM Megan Zuniga said:

    Great post. Even great leaders need a break. I guess this is why most companies have yearly team-building and all that fun. But most people (including me) would just skip the daily reflection part because we’re too busy worried about meeting deadlines. And this could be more true in small businesses with lazy uncaring leaders.

  6. On May 4th, 2010 at 7:06 AM Kelly Ketelboeter said:

    Hi Tanveer,

    Reflection is so critical in many areas of our lives and as you pointed out, we are often too busy to take the time for this crucial task.

    Reflection will allow us to silence the other voices that leaders are often bombarded with. By doing so, the leader is able to regroup, focus and gain clarity on what he or she feels is truly important to the company, the employees and those they serve. It will also give the leader a chance to evaluate progress, celebrate small wins and consider next steps.

    A couple other questions that leaders can ask:

    What progress are we making?

    What's contributed to that progress?

    How do we stay on course?

    Where are we falling off course?

    How come?

    What can I do personally to help my team?

    There are so many areas in business where reflection plays a key role. The tips you provided will allow leaders at all levels to climb the mountain and get clear on what really matters.

    Thanks also to Jimmy for sharing his corkscrew method of reflection.

    Best to you!

    Kelly

  7. On May 4th, 2010 at 1:06 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    @Megan – The problem facing most small business owners is that the mentality of building your business from the ground up is still present; that once they reach their benchmark of making the first million, they soon find themselves saying we have to wait until we make our second million before we can start throttling down and taking into account the landscape where our business is now found in. And yet, irrespective of the size of your company or the size of your team, it’s critical that time be put aside to reflect on what decisions you’ve put into action to see if it’s really aligning with your goals and desired outcomes.

    @Kelly – Thanks Kelly, those are some great questions for leaders to reflect on. The wonderful thing about setting time aside to reflect and ask questions is that it starts changing the questions you start pondering and with it, the perceptions you have of some of the problems your company is facing. In today’s atmosphere of being in almost perpetual motion, it can seem counter-productive when it fact it’s probably the most productive thing a leader can do for their business.

    Thanks Megan and Kelly for adding your thoughts and ideas to this discussion.

  8. On May 4th, 2010 at 1:37 PM Roberta Hill said:

    Unfortunately, I do most of my reflection theses days (or should I say nights) when I settle down to go to bed. The past week I have also taken the time to reflect / rethink my experiences having been caught away from home due to the volcanic ash.

    So here is what I have noticed – reflection is critical but also capturing that reflection somehow is just as important. I am not one for writing a journal so blogging has help me. Organizations and teams need ways to “record” insights and what they have learned as well.

  9. On May 4th, 2010 at 4:33 PM Naomi Caietti said:

    Great post; this is a timely topic.

    Leaders give, give and give. If you want to be at your best; great leaders make time to reflect.

    My inspiration for reflection is in this order:

    Renew, recharge, reflect.

    You must allow yourself some free time to get away, find a quiet sunny spot to read a book or enjoy the simplicity of life. Why? Leaders should have clarity of mind and spirit. Reflection is a powerful tool for your own personal leadership development.

    Allowing yourself time to renew, fuels and recharges your energies & allows your mind to be open to reflection.

    As many others have offered, reflection can come in many forms: questions, journaling, reading and taking time to enjoy an activity to recharge and bring new energy to your next challenges.

  10. On May 4th, 2010 at 1:23 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    @Roberta – That's a great point you bring up, Roberta, about finding an approach to keep track of what your periods of reflection reveal. Of course, there are many tools that one can use to record these insights – journaling probably being one of the more common ones. But as you pointed out, Roberta, blogging can also be a great tool for processing these thoughts, as well as having a record one can go back and review.

    Ultimately which tool one uses comes down to what works best for you to record the ideas that come up from these periods of reflection.

    Thanks for bringing up this point in the discussion, Roberta.

    @Naomi – Hi Naomi, that's an interesting process you mention about how you approach reflection. You're right that one has to have the energy and focus to be able to reflect on the issues that are currently on your plate. Much like eating right and exercising are both needed to live a healthy lifestyle, so too do we need to build into our days opportunities to recharge ourselves so that we can bring our full efforts to the act of reflection.

    Thanks again Roberta and Naomi for bringing some wonderful points to this discussion.

  11. On May 4th, 2010 at 9:40 PM Paul Kiser said:

    Your article sparked a ‘Zen’ moment for me.

    Thank you!

  12. On May 5th, 2010 at 10:35 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Paul; I’m glad to hear that. Looking forward to reading your piece.

  13. On July 14th, 2010 at 6:53 PM James said:

    Yes, yes, I have been working so hard, and get so caught up that I forget to relax and reflect. It puts my mind back at ease.. I like to sit at the capital building in Nashville and overlook the city.

  14. On July 15th, 2010 at 6:57 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks James, I'm glad you enjoyed this piece. Sounds like a wonderful spot to sit back and gain some perspective on the issues you're currently facing. Thanks for sharing.

  15. On July 24th, 2012 at 4:25 AM Kent Julian said:

    Reflection is a thought process, emotional process, and an intuitive process. As a habit, it's a key to leadership success since it creates a vivid picture of the worthwhile goals and objectives to pursue along our road of success. Great guidelines to follow, Tanveer!

  16. On July 24th, 2012 at 10:17 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Kent; appreciate your sharing your thoughts on the importance of reflection.

Your Comment: