Reflection as a leadership tool

Long work days are a daily feature for many. These include fire-fighting escalations, several meetings, conversations with team members, dealing with issues that crop up in different parts of the organisation, addressing client queries, working with external partners, answering emails from people who don’t seem to have a clue about what you are responsible for, looking at emails that you shouldn’t be receiving, attending meetings that make no sense, being on long conference calls with people across time zones (and hearing someone’s dog bark, while you are making an important point), planning for next few weeks, preparing presentations, filling in expense claims, hosting senior executives from the head office etc. It can be exhausting.

During all this, one never feels like there is time to pause and clear the mind before moving to the next activity. Some people take time to introspect, some write a journal, some go on long runs, some read, some watch TV or listen to a podcast, some exercise and some sit in silence. All of these are great ways to unwind. However, they need you to step away and out of the context. What if there is a way to pause in the midst of action? What if there is a way to make that pause not just meaningful for yourself but also for others in that moment? What if one could spend a minute on reflection rather than just introspection?

Let me walk you through an example. Imagine you are in a meeting with 3 other colleagues and you are discussing a proposal in response to an RFP. At the end of the meeting, the typical practice is for someone to summarise the conversation and the next steps. Then follows a quick thank you. Reflection is the pause between the summarizing and the thank you. It is the pause to re-experience the experience. You stop and ask one question that touches on the spirit of the meeting. When you ask, what is one thing you are feel proud about this proposal? The response requires everyone in the room to slow down and think about an aspect that they take pride in. You will be surprised at how each one has a different thing that makes them proud. You get an insight into what motivates people. When you add your own view, you give them a window into what excites you about the work you do.

Another example. When you have spent time with a client on a call, you could pause and ask a reflection question on what the one key takeaway is for them, that they had not expected before. You will be surprised at the answers you receive.

In most meetings I have attended, the focus is on assessment- what went well, what could we do better, what should we improve, what should we keep in mind when we do this next etc. They all deal with the content and the process- the intellectual aspects of the meeting. However, in every meeting there are moments that spark joy, there is something to learn, sometimes there is frustration, there is some bonding, there are instances of feeling pride and there are also moments of confusion. Reflecting on these various emotions and experiences of the meeting, brings about a rich understanding of the people. Asking “what is one moment today when you felt we were working together as a team”, will change the texture of the conversation. It helps everyone pause and pay attention to the things happening to them and around them.

You can use reflection as a tool anywhere, at home, work, your community. All it needs is for you to pause and ask some simple questions. Here are some questions that I have found useful, depending on the context.

–        What is one thing that you found exciting in this conversation?

–        What did you enjoy the most in this meeting?

–        What were some moments when you felt really engaged in the interaction?

–        What would be one key take-away for you from all the interactions?

–        What is one thing you will do differently because of what you learnt today?

–        Who would you share, what you learned today and why?

–        What have you become aware of today that you did not know before?

–        What were some moments, when it felt like we were coming together as a team?

–        If you were to paint a picture of our experience today, what colours will be dominant?

Notice that all of them are open ended questions.  This allows each one to capture the emotions, experience and the energy and express them in their own unique way.

One place where I find this tool extremely useful is with my young son. He has a busy schedule and so do I. Lot of our interactions aren’t the most loving ones. I am always chasing him to finish things and his about to be teenager defiance keeps showing its ugly head. We both lose our cool easily, but I have noticed that whenever I pause at the end of the interaction and ask- what is one thing he enjoyed about the argument, he chuckles at having got one up on me. It not only diffuses the tension, but also makes us both reflect on emotions that we had not paid attention to during what might feel like a tense interchange. Someday the question might be what was frustrating and irritating or what he learnt? With a thoughtful pause, we both can gain our balance back, and not carry the dominant experience into the next interaction.

In my posture class, when I ask at the end of some lessons – what is one thing you discovered about your own body- the responses reveal the connection the students are making between their body and mind. At that point, some of the reasons for the pain they have, become evident. When one person articulates, it allows for others also to seek out their own experiences.

Reflection is a tool that is available to anyone who wants to touch the human spirit. It deepens the connect with people around you. It helps you understand the inner experience- mind shifts and the energy shifts that are taking place in an interaction. When you help people capture the moments that have sparked the emotional, intellectual and the energy dimensions, you allow people to see themselves in a holistic way. In that process you become deeply aware of your whole self. In expressing and experiencing the individual experiences, collectively, each one feels a deeper bond with the other.

You can always introspect to look at what you need to do, to be a better version of yourself. You can do an assessment to check what went well and what can be improved. But when you want to go beyond just the intellectual aspect, when you want to make a deeper connection with each other, when you want to raise the consciousness around, take time to do a reflection.

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2 thoughts on “Reflection as a leadership tool”

  1. Beautifully written. I have realised this over the past one year. I have been introspecting a lot about everything I do and it has produced amazing results not only in my work but also in other aspects of my life. Thanks for creating an awareness about one of the most important aspects in our otherwise extremely fast and busy life.

    1. Thanks Sonal for your comment. Glad to know that you have experienced the power of reflection. I am sure the kind of art you produce has been deeply impacted by this.

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