What would you invest to dramatically increase the power of your leadership and the personal satisfaction of leading? Would you spend a week in a workshop? Travel to a distant city? You may not need to do any of those. Developing a practice of reflection and journaling has the potential to take you far on your leadership journey.
Reflection and journaling allow you to learn from yourself over time, to see how your leadership is changing and where you might want to go next on your leadership journey.
To maximize the benefits of a reflection practice, you'll need to balance the opposite poles of three aspects of your reflection. Each of these aspects has a somewhat paradoxical quality. Embracing the paradox gives your reflection more depth and power. The three aspects to balance in your reflection practice are freedom/structure, consistency/spontaneity, and solitude/community. In each of these, it's not that one way is better but that you'll get more from your reflection if you balance different ways of doing it.
Balancing Freedom and Structure:
Questions. This concerns what you choose to reflect on. It brings into focus the balance between freedom and structure. Sometimes it's useful to simply reflect on and write about whatever is floating around in your mind. Perhaps you wake up puzzled over a failed communication at work yesterday. Let those thoughts and feelings flow out through your pen. Don't edit or control it; just let it flow. At other times, you'll want to reflect on a specific topic or question. Perhaps it's a question from something you’ve read, an issue raised by a mentor or coach, or anything else that seems to be working on you. By allowing your mind free rein at times and guiding it gently at other times, you'll blend the need to be with where you are and the need to extend yourself in a specific direction to move forward.
Balancing Consistency and Spontaneity:
Timing. This is about the balance of consistency and spontaneity. Regular reflection is a discipline like meditation or prayer or fitness. As such, the practice will progress more rapidly if there is a regular time set aside for reflection. Still, there will be times when something will be bubbling up for you and you'll benefit by finding time (even 5 minutes) to write about what's coming up or what's puzzling you. Embrace the paradox of being both consistent and spontaneous.
Balancing Solitude and Community:
Conversations. The balance I'm referring to here is the balance between solitude and community. While the majority of your reflection will be a conversation with yourself, your practice will deepen considerably if there are trusted friends or colleagues with whom you can reflect in community. I'm not talking about help or advice but about a place for mutual, open-hearted sharing. Sharing with someone with whom you can allow yourself the vulnerability of uncertainty. This may be conversations with individual friends or it may happen in the context of a group retreat where both solitude and sharing are supported.
If you're serious about becoming a stronger leader, about having a bigger impact, then commit to reflecting daily for 60 days. It won't cost you a dime and you can judge the results for yourself. I'd love to hear how it goes for you.
Ideas for Questions to Journal About
Poetry is a good source. Pull out a favorite collection of poetry and sit with one of the poems for a bit. Questions or topics will likely bubble up. Write them down as they surface without judging or editing. That will give you a nice starter collection. Another good source is Brenee Brown's book "The Gifts of Imperfection." Worth a read and guaranteed to give you some questions to ponder that will deepen your leadership.