self-reflection

Slowing Down for Self-Reflection Can Accelerate Leadership Impact

In the rapidly evolving world we’re living in, it can feel like we’re constantly being pulled in dozens of different directions.

That “new normal” everyone is trying to adapt to? Maybe it’s better said that continual change – sometimes abrupt – is our new normal.

How can we, as leaders, flex flawlessly when we’re bombarded all the time with fires to put out, challenges to respond to, and a host of other daily responsibilities tugging at us?

The answer may be simpler than we think…

Self-reflection.

“Reflection… Looking back so the view looking forward is clearer.” – Unknown

Why Slowing Down for Self-Reflection Can Actually Accelerate Growth

A KelloggInsight article featured in the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University shared some fantastic insights from Harry Kraemer, a clinical professor and former CEO of healthcare giant Baxter International.

“Instead of constant acceleration, Kraemer says, leadership demands periods of restraint and consideration, even—perhaps especially—during a crisis. Leaders must regularly turn off the noise and ask themselves what they stand for and what kind of an example they want to set.”

For many of us, it’s almost second nature to react immediately (and sometimes, undesirably) when we’re faced with a situation that grabs our attention. Yet, something powerful happens when we come from a place rooted in self-reflection:

We’re empowered to lead – and live – from a far more stable foundation that actually enhances our performance and widens our impact.

Self-Reflection Increases Workplace Engagement

An HBR article aptly titled “How Self-Reflection Can Help Leaders Stay Motivated” points to a pre-pandemic, 2017 statistic from Gallup that found just 38% of managers and executives are engaged at work. This decreased even more – to 29% – for mid-level managers. Imagine what those numbers look like after the COVID impact…

“Given these disconcerting numbers, we were interested in developing an intervention that enhances leaders’ engagement at work,” write authors Klodiana Lanaj, Trevor A. Foulk, and Amir Erez.

The solution was quite straightforward: Each morning, leaders spent a few minutes contemplating and writing about three aspects they liked about themselves and that they felt made them a “good leaders.” This exercise resembles the one I give regularly to clients who want to expand their presence, productivity and joy.

Two studies went on to examine whether this simple intervention was useful. Not surprisingly, on the days the leaders did this exercise, they experienced lower levels of depletion and felt more engaged. What’s more, they also felt they had a positive impact on their followers.

Here’s another interesting finding: The positive effects of this easy morning exercise extended to the evening, which led researchers to believe the leaders also experienced greater levels of positivity at home, too.

So, What Are Some Easy Ways to Self-Reflect?

The best part is that self reflection is completely approachable for anyone – and it doesn’t involve staring at an object in space or focusing on the tip of your nose.

Robert L. Rosen, film producer, explains it in this memorable way:

“Self-reflection entails asking yourself questions about your values, assessing your strengths and failures, thinking about your perceptions and interactions with others, and imagining where you want to take your life in the future.”

The goal of self-reflection in leadership is to:

  • Achieve greater levels of self-awareness
  • Get to the core of who we really are so our True Self can shine
  • Use our insights to continually improve our work, life and the relationships within these

All that’s needed to start a few quiet moments at a time of day (or night) that is most aligned with your schedule.

From there, here are a few pointers you might reflect upon:

1. Examine those priorities. Self-reflection can be an excellent tool to help us identify what our most important priorities really are. We may discover that things we thought were important aren’t – while other areas need greater focus.

2. Explore hot buttons & triggers. Consider what triggers your behaviors, what drives your reactions, and why? What about personal or professional blind spots? This area of self-reflection can help us achieve more productive interactions with our teams & with those around us.

3. Get to know…your “shadow side.” This is my favorite, because, while most often the most uncomfortable, it can also be the most impactful move we can make. It is said that “Unless you learn to face your own shadows, you will continue to see them in others, because the world outside you is only a reflection of the world inside you.” (Unknown), meaning that if we can spot it, we got it 😉 Yet, it’s the one thing few of us are willing to look at, let alone talk about. It’s that shadowy part of the human personality that lurks beneath our everyday awareness. And it can manifest when we least expect, knocking us off the rails & creating unintended and disastrous results…

With all of this in mind, it’s easy to see the value of self-reflection…

…especially when it comes to identifying areas of ourselves that can seriously impact our performance and quality of life.

Even as we peek at our “shadow side” – resist the urge to make judgements. Simply observe. The “shadow side” – those aspects of personality that we aren’t always consciously aware of – does not necessarily imply “bad” or “negative.” Most of the time, these parts of ourselves originate from circumstances way beyond our control. It’s not our fault, but it is our responsibility. And we can learn to channel once-hidden areas to our advantage.

Truly, self reflection can lift the curtain on areas of our lives that might otherwise go overlooked…or ignored.

“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” – Anais Nin

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Finding Our New Normal – In Leadership & In Life

“My new normal is to continually get used to new normals.” 

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The “new normal.”

Everyone is talking about it.

But does any sense of “normal” even exist anymore?

Perhaps the deeper, more important question might be:

How do we begin to accelerate in life and work – while staying intentional about what we focus on and why?

Leaders Are Facing Historic, Unprecedented Times

2020 has been described as unprecedented in our recent history, filled with tumultuous events and widespread uncertainty. Understandably, many of us are wondering exactly how we can move forward in the face of what seems to be continued instability.

“The future is not what we thought it would be only a few short months ago,” asserts a recent McKinsey & Company article.

With our visions of the future changing so much – and so fast – many of us are asking how to start moving forward again while remaining aligned with key values and true to our authentic cores.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer – and we may even find that personally (and professionally) the elusive answer shifts as rapidly as these extraordinary times.

Some suggestions gleaned from reading McKinsey authors Kevin Sneader and Shubham Singhal:

  • Don’t get caught in the trap of thinking (or hoping) that things will magically return to normal. We can never go back to the “old” normal.
  • Emphasize best practices encompassing collaboration, flexibility, inclusion, and accountability – all particularly crucial in today’s times.
  • Focus on leadership and strong alliances with strategic partners to start architecting a stronger future today.

Easy Does It, One Step at a Time

In our own lives, perhaps the best advice I can share is to simply keep going forward, one gentle step at a time, at a pace that feels comfortable for you and yet also slightly uncomfortable (so that you are also in the learning zone).

Many of us have been finding these last few months have been an ideal time to get grounded and to reflect on what in our lives is working well…and what is not.

For me, this process has not always been easy – in fact, it’s been downright painful at times. We can all probably relate on some level.

It’s often said that change never feels great during the process – only once it’s done. Yet change is an essential part of growth in our lives – as leaders and as human beings.

3 Practical Tips to Keep Moving Forward in Leadership (& Life)

  1. Re-evaluate your values. Now is a great time to think about what matters most. We might consider how our values have changed in response to everything that’s been happening on a global, collective level. Contemplate how your own values have shifted from what they were a year ago, or even as recent as six months prior.
  2. Stay agile to flex with the times. Given the rapidly evolving, very tumultuous times we all find ourselves living in, it’s easy to feel stuck when it comes to moving forward with our goals. Try organizing your vision – and when you do, look out for these common goal-setting mistakes. Just because the outlook for the future has changed doesn’t mean we can’t still pursue our ambitions.
  3. Be inspired by others. Scroll through social media or any major news network, and it can quickly become a challenge to find any good news. Yet, we have a powerful choice to make. Choose to seek out (and be motivated) by the good that is present all around us. So many people are overcoming seemingly insurmountable adversities every single day in innovative, creative ways.

Together, we can move forward & rise above – one BOLD baby step at a time. Because in the words of the infamous quote:

If not now, when? If not me, then who?

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