As leaders, our most important job is not to write mission statements, develop strategy or increase revenue. Our most important job is to inspire the results of those we lead with an aim to enable them improve productivity and reach their highest potential.
We do this by, among other things, critically observing and analyzing those we lead as well as the environment in which we operate in order to obtain information that informs our leadership direction and decisions.
While it has become part of our work ethic to think critically and deeply about our work, our environment and our people, we often forget to apply this concept to ourselves as individuals. Slowing down and taking a break from our crazy lives for a moment of self-reflection isn’t always the easiest thing to do in the fast paced society in which we live and work.
The practice of self-reflection goes back many centuries and is rooted in the world’s great spiritual traditions. Early advocates of this practice include ancient philosophers and teachers like Confucius, Socrates and Plato. These scholars set their push for self- refection on the belief that as human beings we possess the heartfelt desire to know ourselves and find deep meaning in our lives, and that we have the capacity to do so through self- reflection. Socrates in support of this said; ‘’ The unexamined life is not worth living, and a life that has not been examined has no author, for the individual did not live his life but merely followed the force of nature or others.’’
In our modern day, psychologists and leadership scholars continue to confirm the benefits and importance of self-reflection.
In his book “From Values to Action’’, Harry Kraemer asserts that one of the most important principles of effective leadership is self-reflection. He urges every leader to regularly have a moment of silence, where they take a fearless personal moral inventory of self. This gives the brain an opportunity to squarely face and sort through experiences, examine the past and the present, review one’s lifestyle, choices and even faith; and in the process create meaning. This meaning becomes learning, which can then inform future mindsets and actions. As leaders, this “meaning making” helps build emotional awareness, giving us the ability to understand our mental content, emotions, strengths, weaknesses, drives, goals and fears and enabling us to recognize their impact on us and on those we lead.
In John Maxwell’s book, ‘’How Successful People Think’’, he states that reflective thinking gives you true perspective. It gives a clear understanding of your purpose, core values and beliefs, putting them at the forefront of your mind which informs your decision making first hand and greatly strengthens those decisions, allowing new ideas to emerge in the process.
It is important to stress that self-reflection differs from self-absorption. While, self-reflection is about having an accurate view of oneself for the sake of self-understanding and growth, self-absorption on the other hand is focusing on oneself in pursuit of vanity, egotism, and an inflated sense of self-importance.
In order to get the most out of a self- reflection exercise, experts advise the following:
- Get into a suitable mental state and environment: Put all of your attention on the process and remove any distractions. Carry a journal and pen, so you can capture your thoughts and decisions throughout the process.
- Ask the right questions: Questioning is a great way to challenge your beliefs and assumptions as you dig deeper into who you really are and where you are at. Here are some questions that could guide this process:
- Who am I and what is my ultimate personal mission?
- Where am I headed and what small and large victories have I achieved?
- Am I living up to my core values and personal mission?
- What is most important in my life? Is my allocation of time congruent with what I find most important?
- What mistakes have I made in the past and what can I learn from these mistakes?
- Who are the 5 people I spend the most time with? Are these people enabling me move towards my personal mission?
- What are my responsibilities, if any, to my community and to make the world a better place?
- Be 100% truthful, follow reflection with action: The power of self- reflection lies within telling yourself the complete truth and determining to act on it. As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said: “Never by reflection alone, but also by doing is self-knowledge possible to one.” The ultimate purpose of self-reflection is self-improvement, which can only happen through intentional action that leads to growth and improved effectiveness. Peter Drucker affirmed this many years ago when he said, “Follow effective action with quiet reflection, from the quiet reflection will come even more effective action”.
The challenge for us as leaders, is to take the time off from our busy schedules and be enriched by these valuable moments of self-reflection. Only through self-reflection can we discover our true selves, destroy false myths, terminate ego-centeredness and set ourselves on the path to be the most effective leaders we can be.
Wishing you great leading!
By Shiphrah Kiiza