Taking time to step away from the sound and fury of our regular lives and reflect on ourselves is really important for our emotional well-being, but is also a critical tool in an emotionally balanced Project Leader’s arsenal. Introspective leadership self-reflection and the improved sense of awareness that it brings about are both really important in helping leaders at all levels to make calm, considered, authentic decisions.
But checking in on oneself does not mean checking out on the team – a well balanced Project Leader who chooses to step back and self-reflect is following the path to developing a deeper, more emotionally grounded connection to the team.
Every Project Leader should take regular time to check in on themselves through self-reflection and focus on how they are performing, how others see them, how they see themselves, how true they are to their authentic selves. Whilst this may seem challenging amidst the 24/7 cacophony of noise and distractions, it really is when the noise is at its loudest that introspection has the greatest role to play in helping the Project Leader to remain calm and grounded.
Taking time to know oneself through self-reflection opens a fresh perspective, enhancing one’s clarity and focus. With these gifts one can continuously look for ways to enhance effectiveness and pave pathways to achievement – Rachel Borsch
During my own leadership journey, there have been times when I have struggled to step away and catch my breath – particularly in the early days, this affected my decision making and as a result, the way that my teams and stakeholders responded to me. By not taking the time to really look at my performance and the way I made decisions, my early leadership became self absorbed and lacked authenticity – it wasn’t based around a true sense of who I was at a very basic, fundamental level. However, I have worked consciously (with the occasional bump and bruise!) hard over the years to build self-reflection into my daily routine – simple meditations, exercise regimes, a few quiet mantras – so that I can now quickly recognize when the crazy clouds are circling and use a couple of neat tricks to check in on myself, draw a fresh perspective and regain my focus.
At this very personal level, Anthony Tjan’s ideas about the trinity of self really hit home – know yourself, improve yourself and complement yourself. I love these – take the time to know yourself and the way you make decisions, understand what does and doesn’t work and then build support by surrounding yourself with the right people and environment – whether that be at home, work, church, family, socially or anywhere else that we connect with people around us.
What a terrific mantra to repeat each morning or evening…”I will know myself, I will improve myself and I will support myself”. So simple – and really, the essence of introspective self-reflection.
Project Leaders can make time for reflection
So, as Project Leaders caught in that ever-present, inexorable maelstrom, how do we find time for introspective reflection? When should we reflect? How can we ensure that we do not become so wrapped up, so self absorbed that we cut ourselves off from the team? How do we make sure that checking in does not result in us checking out? The answers will be different for everyone but there are some simple principles that we can call out.
- Make quiet time a daily habit
Reflection works best where it is a regular habit. Set aside a few daily minutes to gather your thoughts and focus on the day ahead.
- I love to walk to the office each morning and think things through – I make sure to leave my train 1-2 stops earlier than the crowd and enjoy a peaceful half hour in the early dawn light, with the clear air, dappled sun peeking through the trees and soft bird song helping me arrive rejuvenated and energized.
- Do you have recurring daily or weekly meetings in your calendar? Try blocking out the 10 mins prior and using that as regular reflection time.
- Try regular breathing mediation, or calming the mind whilst running or walking…any activity that allows you to settle your thoughts into a rhythm.
[Meditation] may not be for everyone. The important thing is to have a set time each day to pull back from the intense pressures of leadership to reflect on what is happening. In addition to meditation, I know leaders who take time for daily journaling, prayer, and reflecting while walking, hiking or jogging – Bill George
Introspective reflection need not mean cutting yourself off from others – it can, in fact, include them in open and constructive discussions.
- Consult widely and regularly with your panel of mentors – build these discussions into your development plan.
- Work with your team and stakeholders – ask for feedback, talk about what does and doesn’t work as a group; the Agile Retrospective meeting technique provides a wonderful vehicle for sharing open, collaborative discussions around the things that matter most to your team – use these discussions to tease out leadership impacts and issues.
Michele Ruiz’s achingly personal reflection really brings out the value in getting your team involved – it’s a wonderful example of checking out with the specific purpose of strengthening the leadership ties that bind. Beautiful writing…”I’ve made taking care of myself a priority…slow down to lead”.
The overall result is by giving up some control, implementing processes and upgrading technology I actually feel more in control. And I’ve made taking care of myself a key priority. The changes are positioning us well for growth. How fortunate I am to have an exceptional team that taught me a valuable lesson – Slow down to lead – Michele Ruiz
Introspective reflection does not must happen; it requires practice. Have you tried to sit still, block out all thoughts and focus on nothing but your breathing? How long can you last before losing concentration? 10…15…maybe 30 seconds?
- Calm, focussed introspection takes dedication,discipline and focus. Be prepared to invest in mindfulness practice for the long haul.
- Build mindfulness practice into your development plan – take it seriously, treat it with respect and commit to regular practice.
I don’t use the word “practice” lightly. In order to gain awareness and clarity about the present moment, you must be able to quiet your mind. That is tremendously difficult and takes a lifetime of practice. In 2012, I had the privilege of presenting my ideas on authentic leadership to his Holiness the Dalai Lama. When I asked him what it took to become an authentic leader, he replied, “You must have practices that you engage in every day.” – Bill George
Have a daily conversation with yourself. Ask questions, answer back again and see where it takes you. Take care not to avoid any difficult topics – there are no short cuts and in fact, self reflection is a terrific way to deal with those really curly leadership issues or problems that may be dragging you down. I really like Janna Rust’s idea of a daily conversation checklist – while you may not want to use Janna’s exact questions, I like the idea of a pocket primer that you can walk through each morning.
Self-reflection is a Life Journey
The key here is that every Project Leader can improve their leadership growth and make more grounded, authentic decisions through introspective reflection. Everyone can. But there is no easy path – it demands courage, persistence and a willingness to work through whatever comes up along the way.
Checking in on yourself does not mean checking out on the team. Quite the opposite – it means making both a concerted effort to improve your leadership ability through grounded, balanced decision making and a very personal commitment to your team to involve them in your growth journey.
- Reflection is a life journey – Project Leaders must be prepared to commit themselves for a long term.
- Reflection is difficult – Project Leaders must be prepared to look broadly, consult openly and confront tough issues. Reflection is not passive; it is tough, confronting and hard work.
- Reflection is a personal discipline – The way that we reflect does not matter so much as the action of reflecting itself. Find out what works for you, treat it with respect, commit to it and immerse yourself wholeheartedly.
Postscript (23 Jan 2013) – what a wonderful article by Mary Jo Asmus which includes some brilliant, simple and profound techniques to help leaders on the path to self-reflection. Her article is really worth reading at a whole lot of levels but really, I can’t go past her first point…”Begin with a few dedicated minutes before you begin your workday to get organized and set your intentions”. Perfect. Find your own place to claim those minutes, make it yours and use it every day.
Begin with a few dedicated minutes before you begin your workday to get organized and set your intentions. Even though there is a temptation to be pulled into the urgent, stay true to five or 10 minutes of uninterrupted time to visualize the flow of your day, prioritize what needs to be done, and decide who you need to communicate with (make a list). Avoid distraction; let others know you can’t be disturbed, turn off your e-mail alerts and close your door, if you have one. – Mary Jo Asmus
I am interested in your experiences with introspective reflection – both good and bad. Is reflection part of your leadership development regime? Does it help or hinder you? Are you able to balance looking inwards with maintaining engagement and commitment to your team? What lessons can you share from your experiences in different work environments and cultures? Is reflection always encouraged in other workplaces? Feel free to share your thoughts and stories – all are welcome.