Looking Deeper Into Reflection

A jack-of-all-trades, Benjamin Franklin was famous for his scheme to achieve "moral perfection," a goal that often eluded him due to his busy schedule. But every evening, before retiring at midnight, he would reflect on his day and ask himself: "What good have I done today?"

This has been an amazing year of growth for me.  I mistakenly thought to myself the other day, "Paul, you are forty-four years old. I think you are done growing!"  I would have to say that I'm not even close to being done growing. And I won't be done until my heart stops beating and mind stops processing.  This is what it means to be a lifelong learner.  Yep, that's me.

I wrote in a post a month ago about reflection, and I come back to it now because I recognize this as an area where I have grown significantly in the year so far.  As a leader with twenty-five years under my belt, reflection has been one of the largest factors that has helped me become a better leader.  

In that post, I referenced Mike Thompson's book, The Anywhere Leader. Mike, through his heartfelt words, states that reflection is one of nine behavioral strengths that make up an "anywhere leader." He feels that reflection is so important that he wrote an entire chapter solely on the subject of reflection; thoughts that have transformed my understanding of how important and powerful reflection is to a leader growing in their knowledge of others and themselves.  

I'll share one experience I had that shows the power of reflecting. I remember looking out the car window after a challenging moment: getting fired unexpectedly. I never thought I would be fired...ever. My mind was going a hundred miles an hour wondering how I was going to support my family and, more specifically, how I was going to tell my wife.  As I was driving home and thinking about what had just happened to me, I remembered two things.  I remember seeing my reflection in the window, and then looking out at the blurred scene outside the window beyond my reflection.  I thought about this situation and all that was going on inside of me, but at that moment, I was able to reflect on the challenge.  My reflection in the window made me come to realize that I needed to see how this challenge would make me understand myself better, and in so doing, it would help me see how I would be able to grow and better fit into the world beyond my window. 

This is key. We reflect on our experiences to gain self-awareness.  As we grow in this understanding, we can then figure out how that experience can assist us in changing who we are positively, so that we can make an impact on the world around us, or more specifically, on those people that we have the opportunity to lead.  

Benjamin Franklin once said, "There are three things that are extremely hard: steel, a diamond and to know one's self."  Here is the challenge: how can reflection assist us with our self-awareness? What is the relationship between self-awareness and reflection? 

I've learned that by intentionally taking time to reflect on our past experiences, we can become more self-aware. However, we need to take time to ask ourselves questions like: 

  • "Why did that happen?"
  • "How did I react?"
  • "Could I have done a better job?"
  • "How could I have acted differently to make a bigger impact?"
  • "Am I really naturally like that when I get into challenging situations?"

My suggestion would be to just kick it around or chew on it awhile with the intended outcome to be a better you, a better leader.    

Take time to examine each of your days or maybe you can take time to reflect once a week by writing a journal or blog; whatever fits you as a leader. I challenge you this week to ask yourself what you did well, what you didn’t do so well, and what you can improve on tomorrow. I promise you that a little reflection will not only inspire you, but will also inspire those you lead.