“Every leader should routinely keep a substantial portion of his or her time—I would say as much as 50 percent—unscheduled. … Only when you have substantial ’slop’ in your schedule—unscheduled time—will you have the space to reflect on what you are doing, learn from experience, and recover from your inevitable mistakes. Leaders without such free time end up tackling issues only when there is an immediate or visible problem. Managers’ typical response to my argument about free time is, ‘That’s all well and good, but there are things I have to do.’ Yet we waste so much time in unproductive activity—it takes an enormous effort on the part of the leader to keep free time for the truly important things.” – Dov Frohman
Making time to reflect and think is a critical leadership practice. In its simplest form, reflecting is just thinking about what happened. It’s the process of thinking about and examining what we’ve experienced, how we reacted and what changes we need to make to become more effective.
There are few people who make a conscious effort to learn from their experiences and fewer still who learn from their experiences. This is because reflection is not an automatic process for most people. Most of us make our way through life simply reacting to circumstances. To be effective leaders must make reflection a regular practice.
“Leaders like everyone else, are the sum of all their experiences, but, unlike others, they amount to more than the sum, because they make more of their experiences.” – Warren Bennis, Why Leaders Can’t Lead
A simple way to start a practice of reflection is by asking questions, questions about how we feel, about the results we are getting in our life, and what we can do differently to get different results. For example, find a quite place where you are not going to be disturbed, take an issue that’s important to you, and ask yourself the following questions:
- What happened?
- What was I trying to achieve?
- What went well and why?
- What didn’t go so well and why?
- How did it affect me?
- How did it affect others?
- What were the consequences (positive or negative) for myself and others?
- What could be done differently next time?
- Would this change improve the consequences?
“Reflection is asking the questions that provoke self-awareness” – Warren Bennis, On Becoming a Leader
As leaders much of our success is dependent on the way we think. Given this, it’s important that we schedule regular time-out to reflect on how we are behaving, how we are thinking about a situation and what adjustments we might need to make to improve our effectiveness.
- Do you have a dedicated place when you spend time reflecting?
- When was the last time you spent reflecting on an issue that is important to you?