Often, business leaders push off self-reflection. After all, who has time for introspection? Every day, business leaders have so many different issues vying for their attention that it is easy to push reflection off and eventually just not bother with it at all. However, this impulse is problematic, because self-reflection and self-awareness are critical for good leadership. Through these processes, individuals can identify their strengths and weaknesses, create strategic plans for achieving their goals, and become better leaders.
In many ways, leadership involves constant action. At the same time, that action can become unproductive or aimless without some periods dedicated to rest and reflection. The best business leaders understand the importance of turning off the noise and thinking critically about what they are doing and why, what motivates them, and what goals they want to pursue.
What Does Self-Reflection Accomplish?
While self-reflection may seem like a waste of time at first glance, taking just five minutes a day to pause and think provides leaders with a number of advantages. One of the major benefits is a deeper understanding of personal priorities as well as individual strengths and weaknesses. These are critical for excellent leadership. Understanding priorities helps individuals identify their personal and professional goals and create a clearer path toward them. In addition, strong leaders are leaders of themselves—but this kind of self-mastery can be difficult to achieve when you haven’t examined your own motivations, values, inclinations, and tendencies.
To grasp why it’s so vital for leaders to know themselves, consider how important it is to understand the people you are managing. Projects are completed most efficiently when leaders assign the various responsibilities to the people most equipped to handle them. Leaders must understand the individual strengths, weaknesses, and motivations of their team members to accomplish this. Similarly, self-reflection is this process turned inward. Introspection allows people to see where they might be falling short and figure out ways to address these shortcomings. Self-reflection also allows leaders to appreciate what they are doing well, and to enjoy a shot of confidence from this.
In addition, self-reflection makes leaders more resilient. When leaders take the time to reflect, they’re more able to identify their fears. This realization can help them prepare for worst-case scenarios. For example, consider a session of self-reflection that leads to the realization that one employee has become a star member of the team and is carrying much of the weight of the work. Losing that employee could cripple the team, and the leader, afraid of this truth, has simply refused to think about the possibility. Once this issue has been identified, the leader can start thinking about how to prepare for that possibility through additional training of other employees, instead of blindly hoping that the employee won’t leave.
Tips for More Effective Self-Reflection
Just as working without a clear aim makes it difficult to accomplish anything, self-reflection without any structure can be a complete waste of time. Some good tips for effective self-refection include:
- Schedule reflection. Leaders often feel like slaves to their calendars. To avoid prioritizing other activities, schedule time for reflection and then keep to the calendar. The impulse to skip or push reflection off is in itself some great fodder for reflection.
- Build over time. Business leaders don’t often have large chunks of time to devote to reflection. Scheduling even half an hour can seem overwhelming. Instead, aim for five minutes at first and then slowly increase the amount of time dedicated to self-reflection, as it becomes more comfortable and productive.
- Experiment with the process. There are many different ways to guide your self-reflection, and not every method works for everyone. Some people prefer writing in a journal, while others talk to a trusted friend or mentor. Many people enjoy hiking, walking, or engaging in some other activity as they think. Figure out what works best for you.
- Keep a list of questions. While general reflection can reveal some interesting insights, it can be more productive to use a few questions as prompts. Some excellent places to start include: What am I avoiding? How am I hindering the progress of my employees? Who is boosting or inhibiting my own productivity? What are my major motivations? Over time, other questions may arise, and some of these questions may become less important. Keeping track of questions—and answers—in writing helps reveal progress over time.
- Seek help. When you hit a wall with reflection, it is perfectly fine to ask for help. Lack of time, skill, and experience can all inhibit the process, but talking to coaches, mentors, therapists, and even colleagues can help. Often, bringing someone else into the equation creates a greater sense of accountability that can make a self-reflection session more productive. In addition, people who know you well may be able to point out aspects of your behavior that you haven’t noticed. These observations can lead to new insights.