In my previous piece, I discussed why leadership should be hard in the context of how so many leaders I’ve work with are now struggling to find balance between the rising demands on their attention and resources, and having the time to assess their leadership and what they need to do going forward.
Given how that piece was based on my own reflections of this past year, I was delighted to see its message resonating with so many of my readers. Among the many comments I received regarding that piece were questions about some of the strategies I use for reflection and increasing my sense of self-awareness.
Now before I share the strategies I use for reflection and review, I’d like to first briefly point out the findings of a recent study for why it’s so important for leaders – in light of the growing demands for their time, attention, and resources – to use reflection in their leadership.
Dr. David Zes and Dr. Dana Landis analyzed self-assessments from almost 7 000 professionals in about 500 publicly traded companies looking for gaps in how individuals viewed their competencies as compared to how their colleagues viewed their performance. This data was then compared against the return on investment for the company’s stock over a period of almost two and a half years.
Through their analysis, the researchers found that the employees that worked at poorly performing companies had on average 20% more blind spots as compared to those who worked at financially strong companies. Also, employees at poor-performing companies were 79% more likely to demonstrate low levels of self-awareness as compared to employees who worked at companies that were delivering a strong return on investment.
What their study’s findings revealed is that self-awareness doesn’t just have an impact on our own individual level of growth and advancement, but it has a direct impact on an organization’s success as well.
In fact, the study’s authors point out that leaders who’ve demonstrated a higher degree of self-awareness not only have a greater level of job satisfaction and work commitment, but that perception and attitude also starts to manifest itself in those they lead as well.
Of course, in order to increase our self-awareness, we need to make time to reflect and review on past events [Share on Twitter] – to understand the impact the ripples we set out through our actions and words have on those around us – so that we might learn how we can do better and become the kind of leader our employees need us to be in order to thrive in our organizational community.
So with this in mind, here are the three strategies I use to tap into this power of reflection to increase my sense of self-awareness:
1. Schedule and protect time in your work week for reflection
Of the three strategies mentioned here, I’ve come to realize over the past few months how critical this first one is becoming in today’s increasingly rushed work environment.
Following the release of my first leadership book, I soon found myself inundated with requests for interviews, writing opportunities, and speaking engagements – all of the things one hopes to see come to fruition after spending many long hours conceptualizing and writing your first book.
However, this rise in new demands for my time and efforts cut into my reflection time and I can honestly tell you, I began to feel it. Worse, my family began to feel it.
Having now returned back to my regular routine, I realized that losing this reflection time left me feeling more like I was jumping through hoops than achieving the goals I had mapped out for myself.
The power of reflection gives us the internal narrative to contextualize why our efforts matter [Share on Twitter]. And this is exactly what I was missing – I was so busy trying to get things done that I couldn’t connect these efforts to why they mattered, and how it would help me to move forward with my long term goals.
That’s why it’s important that we not only schedule but protect that time we set aside for reflection; that we fight the urge to use it to write that email we’re long overdue to respond to, or finish that report that’s due in the next week.
The demands for our time and attention will always be there and will continue to grow, which is why we need to create and preserve these dedicated periods for introspection and review.
2. Remove all distractions from your surroundings
Of course, once we create these dedicated periods in our work week for reflection, the next critical thing we must do to protect it is to remove any distractions in our surroundings that can draw us away from our time to reflect.
In today’s 24/7, global environment, it’s very easy to be drawn into that notion of needing to be continually on, connected, and taking it all in to keep up with what’s going on.
And yet, while it’s important to know what’s going on within our organization, it’s also critical that we understand what’s going on within ourselves [Share on Twitter]. To recognize our own mental state and perceptions, and how this is impacting the manner in which we show up to engage and inspire those under our care.
That’s why it’s important that you remove any distractions from your environment – turn off the smartphone, close the laptop or desktop monitor, and focus your attention on contemplation. Of course, for some of us, our surroundings can still be full of distractions. In that case, simply change your location – find an empty conference room or go for a walk outside of your workplace.
The point is to just make sure that you’re in an environment that will allow you to clear your head and really focus inward to assess and review where things are at and where you need to go next.
As Raja Rajamannar, Chief Marketing Officer for MasterCard points out, “A clear mind is critical to decision making. It makes room for new connections and fresh insights. And it arouses empathy.”
3. Have a list of questions to begin the reflection process
So now that we’ve secured both time and a place for us to begin the process of reflection, how do we actually get things started? What I’ve found to be the best way to encourage this process is to have a list of open-ended questions.
By open-ended, I mean that these can’t be simple, open-and-shut questions where the answer is either easy to find or that there’s only one answer. Instead, come up with a list of questions of things that are swirling in the back of your mind but which you never seem to have time to consider.
Here are some questions I’ve shared with my clients that can help you to get started:
- Did I react with gratitude or frustration when problems were brought to my attention?
- Were most of my actions this year driven by the need to do right or be right?
- Have I helped my employees to be more open to failure and what more do I need to do?
- Do my employees see the value in their shared contributions? How can I add to that feeling?
- What unexpected opportunities came up this year and what did we learn?
Again, use these questions as a starting point to help begin the process of reflection, as well as coming up with other questions that will help you to increase your self-awareness about your leadership.
Now, while this isn’t the definitive approach to reflection, it is the process that I’ve used over the past few years and which I’ve especially begun to appreciate the value and importance of over these past two months when I sacrificed my time for reflection in order to get things off of my overflowing plate.
In writing this piece, I was reminded of this fundamental truth: before we can take care of others, we need to take care of ourselves [Share on Twitter].
After all, we can’t expect others to bring the best of themselves to the table if we’re unable to do the same [Share on Twitter]. That’s why it’s critical for us to make time in our ever-busy days to reflect on our leadership – of what it is we’re really putting forth as the ideas or messages that matter most to us, as well as getting a better understanding of how others experience our leadership.
Again, remember that studies have shown that when we make concerted efforts to increase our sense of self-awareness of our leadership and ourselves, our organization doesn’t just succeed – but people thrive under our leadership. As we make plans for the new year, let’s make increasing our self-awareness one of the key goals for us to achieve in the months ahead.