As we approach the end of this year, I encourage you to spend some quiet time in reflection on this past year - the unforeseen challenges, the changes you made to your leadership habits, and what is most important. Critical reflection on personal experiences is proven to unlock new learnings leading to improved decision-making and better judgment. It is possible the past year has left you feeling hesitant or dreadful about the future. But, it is the ability to learn through reflection and shift your mindset that will bring out your best in the new year.
Applying critical reflection
Reflection is a powerful leadership tool. The ability to question personal and organizational assumptions and beliefs taken for granted enables leaders to learn from experiences. Effective reflection involves the ability to doubt, pause, and be curious about the ordinary.
The practice of critical reflection provides a path to deeper understanding. It enables leaders to elevate the significance of day-to-day experiences for personal and organizational growth. Critical reflection forces leaders to consider underlying causes for results.
Critical reflection can create personal discomfort and internal conflict as you wrestle with favorable self-perceptions. However, leaders risk repeating bad decisions that could prove disastrous without considering alternate viewpoints.
Biases are present in all leaders. Leadership is recognizing and leveraging the gap between stimulus and response to make a choice rather than make a knee-jerk reaction. When leaders become aware of unconscious biases, it enables them to gain various insights from seeing situations from different points of view. Reflection plays an essential role in a leader becoming aware of biases and making better choices.
"Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." Viktor Frankyl
Reflection improves critical thinking capacity. Critical thinking helps leaders navigate volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous situations common in every business. It is the ability to use cognitive skills and strategies to increase the probability of the desired outcome when problem-solving. Critical thinking for executive leadership is required for businesses to grow, increase speed, and achieve sustainability.
Good leadership attributes
The following three good leadership attributes influence the inner game of leaders that successfully apply critical reflection.
Open-mindedness. The desire to listen to other points of view and recognize that even the most strongly held beliefs may be questioned. Open-minded leaders have very few ideas that cannot be changed.
Responsibility. The desire to pursue truth and apply it today to day situations.
Wholeheartedness. A sincere attitude toward the critical evaluation of themselves and others. A resolute commitment to make necessary changes and overcome the fear of failure.
Making critical reflection a leadership habit
There is a saying in the military that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. The following are some proven ideas for how you can plan to integrate critical reflection into your leadership habits in the new year.
Journal. Use a journaling app like Day One to capture your thoughts, feelings, successes, and frustrations. This approach is demonstrated to be incredibly impactful on leader-follower relationships, clarity of purpose, and improving new skills. Like building any habit, start small and tie it to an existing practice like your routine before you leave the office for the day.
Follower feedback. Critical reflection should be a social process and is proven to be most successful when collaborative. Leaders need to understand how followers perceive their actions. Using a leadership 360 assessment is one proven tool to improve critical reflection. These assessments typically gather feedback from their leader, peers, and direct reports allowing comparisons between themselves and others. This is one leadership assessment you need to be using.
Thought leadership. Books, articles, and assessments on leadership can enable leaders to examine a particular situation from different points of view, supporting critical reflection. Thought leadership grounded in research provides leaders with proven solutions that can be applied and short cycle the learning process. If you are not a skilled speed reader, you may be surprised to know that you can learn how to read a book in an hour. Like any skill, there are tips and tricks to increase your speed and retention. Here is a bonus link (The Five Best Resources) to an assembled collection of my top five personal favorite books from thought leaders on the topics of change management, coaching, culture, innovation and creativity, leadership style, servant leadership, and strategic planning.
Shifting Your Mindset
“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” George Bernard Shaw
What sets apart the most successful leaders you know? I suggest it is how they look at the world and their ability to learn. Too often, leaders and leadership teams spend too much time on the how and not enough on what.
Especially as leaders approach a new year in an attempt to avoid wasting time, leaders are tempted to jump immediately into determining 'how' and rely on a past understanding of 'what,' but as the world changes, so must leaders and organizations. While execution is essential, framing the opportunity determines success and significance. Here are four steps to shift your mindset and bring out your best this new year:
Step 1: Discovering your strengths. Shifting your mindset begins with focusing on the best of what is. Every leader has strengths. Unfortunately, most leaders tend to minimize their need to focus on their strengths and rely on addressing weaknesses. Having a strengths focus is not about ignoring weaknesses but prioritizing, pursuing, and leveraging strengths to bring out your best. A practical way to get started discovering your strengths is using strength-based assessments. The VIA Character Strengths Survey, and the Clifton StrengthsFinder Assessment are two of the most scientifically backed and relatively low-cost strength-based quantitative evaluations. These assessments can be completed online and provide development recommendations and support materials.
For more information regarding the VIA Character Strengths Survey, please go to www.viacharacter.org.
For more information regarding the CliftonStrengths Assessment, please go to www.gallup.com/cliftonstrengths.
Step 2: Dreaming about your future. Spend some time considering what you want out of life and work. The following are a few appreciative questions to help you get started:
What would you wish for if you had three wishes to improve your success and significance in the new year dramatically? (and no, you cannot wish for more wishes)
Imagine it is five or ten years from today, and everything you had wished for and hoped for has come true. What would you see and hear? Describe the changes with people, work, places, etc. Describe what you have done to make these changes possible.
What if it is five or ten years from today, and you have done nothing? Describe what this kind of life is like. Compare this version with your dream version of your life and use this learning to clarify what is at stake.
As you encounter obstacles to achieving your dream, being explicit will help you make better decisions at the moment.
Step 3: Design what should be. Write it down. When you write down a dream, it turns into a description. A study by Dr. Gail Matthews found that the simple act of writing down goals and dreams significantly improved success. Take the answers to your questions in step two and create action-oriented design statements of a few sentences that focus on each key theme.
Step 4: Break it down into steps. You next need to break down your dream statements into steps. Design statements might have some overlap with actions for making the dream a reality:
Brainstorm ideas with others about the specific things that can be accomplished now and those that can be achieved soon.
Consider the various strategies and their timing. Not everything needs to happen now, and not everything should be put off until next year.
After you have the dream broken down into steps, you will want to write down targets, goals, strategies, and potential action items to achieve the different aspects of the dream.
“The hardest thing to do is leaving your comfort zone. But you have to let go of the life you’re familiar with and take the risk to live the life you dream about.” T. Arigo
Skipping to determining 'how' too early will keep you from moving out of your comfort zone and considering what might be.
Do you want to take your mindset shift to the next level? Send progress reports to an accountability partner and share them publicly using Facebook or Instagram.
Shifting our mindset allows new perspectives and presents a never-ending opportunity to grow and achieve new heights in life and work. An effective executive coach will challenge assumptions and encourage, stretch, and challenge you. If you have questions about getting started with executive coaching, let's talk.
The world is changing fast, and no individual or organization wants to remain precisely the same year over year.
Key summary points
Critical reflection on personal experiences is proven to unlock new learnings leading to improved decision-making and better judgment.
The ability to learn through reflection and shift your mindset will bring out your best in the new year.
Critical reflection can create personal discomfort and internal conflict as you wrestle with favorable self-perceptions.
Open-mindedness, responsibility, and wholeheartedness are three good leadership attributes essential to critical reflection.
Too often, leaders and leaders and leadership teams spend too much time on the how and not enough on what.
While execution is essential, framing the opportunity determines success and significance.
Densten, I. L., & Gray, J. H. (2001). Leadership development and reflection: What is the connection? International Journal of Educational Management, 15(3), 119-124.
Gardner, S. & Albee, D. (2015). Study focuses on strategies for achieving goals,
resolutions. Dominican University of California.
Rath, T. (2007). StrengthsFinder 2.0, Gallup Press.