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Over the past fortnight, we held our final two Lab nights of the year in Sydney and Melbourne.
In keeping with this time of the year, when we often pause to take stock and make goals for the year ahead, we elected a self-reflective topic: ‘Reflecting forward on my leadership: what am I bringing forward in 2018?.’
We strongly believe in self-reflection as a critical element of leadership effectiveness and wanted to seize the year-end occasion to reinforce this message within our leadership community of inquiry. Indeed, self-reflection is essential for developing self-awareness — a cornerstone of leadership effectiveness, and certainly one of Leadership Partner’s ‘shrines’… if you’ve ever attended one of our Lab nights, or had a coaching session with us, you will probably have heard Sandra’s motto “you can’t change what you can’t see!”
So, to kick off the night, we started by asking about the participants’ existing reflective practices.
For the large part, people evoked descriptions of reflecting whilst exercising; running, in particular, seemed to be a reflective-inducing practice. A few had a more-or-less regular meditation practices. One participant also had the ritual of writing every single day using a colour system to reflect his mood, and had done so religiously for the past 7 years… simply impressive! We also heard about some unusual and amusing practices, like taking a bath every day to induce that deep reflective state and naming the process ‘product research’!
During this inquiry part of the evening, questions revolved around whether there was any advantage to reflecting deliberately versus more an ad hoc basis. As a group, the majority of the participants didn’t think it was necessary to have some structured and deliberate reflective practices, as they saw themselves reflecting often already.
We challenged that opinion.
Yes, we often reflect. Humans are thinking-machines. Yet we asked, “when reflecting on an ad hoc basis, what do you see yourself reflecting upon?”
As expected, people mentioned reflecting on events that had occurred during the day, topics that were front-of-mind, or issues relating to an impending crisis.
This ‘casual’ reflection is important, but it’s not enough.
Deliberate self-reflection goes a level deeper. It goes beyond the everyday stories and the transient thoughts and feelings emerging from our daily lives. It involves looking at the assumptions and beliefs we (and other people) hold, and it requires looking at the changing contexts we find ourselves in. It also involves changing time paradigms and looking at different time horizons. It requires stepping back from it all and looking for insights and learning at a broader systemic level.
A ‘casual’ reflection is usually reactive and often induces ruminative states – a not so positive mindset... A ‘deliberate’ reflection is more typically proactive since it is intentional. It is a key practice of effective leaders.
There are many different deliberate reflective practices leaders can engage in. If journaling isn’t your thing, you can engage in a relational reflective practice with a coach or a therapist. We both work with our individual therapists and one another in this capacity. (March 2017 HBR article ‘Why You Should Make time for Self-Reflection (Even If You Hate Doing It)’.
We will explore this theme of ‘deliberate reflection’ further in 2018, as one of our key hindsight’s from 2017 is that people need more guidance on how to develop a deliberate reflective practice.
Back to The Lab! So, our intention was to plant some seeds for a more structured and deliberate end-of-year reflection. We asked participants to reflect on three questions:
1. What do I celebrate myself for 2017?
2. What do I want to let go of from 2017?
3. How do I want to stretch myself in 2018?
Let’s unpack the rationale for these questions.
The first question was about learning to celebrate yourself on your own. We are way too dependent on other people’s appraisal and approval. Sure, other people’s feedback is important, but we also need to learn to celebrate ourselves on our own and to recognize when we’ve done a great job. In our experience, the ability to witness one’s own success is critical to being able to progressively let go this “I’m not good enough” story that so many of us run… Far from being a sign of arrogance (as some may fear), acknowledging one’s achievements is usually a sign of confidence and maturity. So, instead of waiting for others to commend us for our work, we wanted participants in our community of inquiry to start seeing they could also do it for themselves.
The second question was about letting go of stories and skills that no longer serve us. There’s a well-known adage “what got you here, won’t get you there”. In order to make room for new skills, we need to be able to recognize when some of our old skills no longer serve us. Sometimes, it’s also about leaving grudges behind us and learning to move on…
The third question was about reflecting on our ‘growth edge’ — about where we want to stretch our leadership in 2018. The concept of ‘growth edge’ is less about goals and KPI and more about those intangible skills and aptitudes we need to develop to support our personal growth.
The sharing of these three questions was done in small intimate trios to ensure people had time to be fully heard on each of these questions. We asked people to pick a picture from some cards that we’d brought along in order to anchor their success to a tangible image, and we asked them to pick one of the value cards we had brought as well to anchor their growth edge.
The rest of what transpired during these nights belongs to the participants… All we can say is that these final Lab nights of the year were, yet again, some beautiful moments of sharing and connecting.
Indeed, all of these Lab nights — 20 so far — have definitely been a source of growth for Tim and me as well. Over time, we have learnt to become more confident and comfortable holding the space and being present, in order to play with what emerges on the night. From the very first Lab night — where we had done hours of research to prepare for the night — to today, where we arrive more ‘naked’ in our own authenticity, just like every other participant who just ‘rocks up’ on the night… what a growth journey for us both!
We feel privileged to have been able to create such rich and authentic space of connection and deep conversations, and look forward to many more in 2018!
The Lab is a leadership community of inquiry who get together every other month in Sydney and Melbourne. The Lab sessions are geared towards senior leaders, so please do let us know if you would like to join the conversation.