How to Make Reflective Leadership Work for You

Every executive is different. Yet, there is one characteristic all experts agree is critical to the success of any executive: being a “great leader."

This then begs the question:  if we’re all different, how do we define a great leader? A refrain that I have heard from a number of leadership experts: “There are all sorts of different qualities that a leader can have so there is no model that applies in all cases. As long as people are willing to follow them they are a good leader.”  So, what does it take to be “great,” not just “good?”
 
The key is in taking a multifaceted approach to leadership that includes understanding the company, its culture, how best to interact with and motivate employees, and that different situations call for different management styles. We must also acknowledge that it’s not uncommon for a situation to call for a style that goes against our personality, requiring us to actively work at its execution. Extroverted, fast-acting CEOs often face this challenge with reflective leadership.

What it is: Naturally reflective leaders are more reserved, introverted, and insightful individuals. They gravitate toward situations and positions where they are required to employ intense problem solving skills, imagination, and creativity.

Why it’s a desired skill: Because of their inherent nature, these professionals are able to easily tap into experience in order to solve problems. This is a highly desirable attribute for all leaders for the simple fact that, without reflection, it’s all too easy to miss things, interpret them incorrectly (decision bias errors), and simply to become overworked from lack of time for introspection.

Consider the words of President Obama, caught on an open mike during a conversation with Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain in 2008: “The most important thing you need to do [in this job] is to have big chunks of time during the day when all you’re doing is thinking.”

How to get it: Not a naturally reflective individual? It’s a skill that can be developed with a bit of effort, enhanced by the use of Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle. Developed by Professor Graham Gibbs to help guide students in coursework, it is an effective method for walking executives through the stages of reflection.

  1. Describe: In this first stage, you are going to describe the situation in detail to yourself. The best way to do this is to ask defining questions, such as: “What happened?”, “What did I do?”, “What did other people do?”, and “What resulted from the actions?”

  2. Feel: Now comes the point where you may have to step outside your comfort zone and really think about the way the situation made you feel. What were your feelings before the situation occurred? How did you feel during and after? What are your feelings about it now that you’re reflecting on it?

  3. Evaluate: It’s now time to consider what works and what doesn’t. This is best accomplished by simply thinking about the positives and negatives, and what you perceive to have worked or not worked of the approach during the situation.

  4. Conclude: Taking everything you’ve reflected on thus far, it’s time to draw conclusions about the things that work and the things that can be made better in the future by taking a different approach.

  5. Act: Using all you’ve learned, you can now work with other managers to develop a strategy to address similar situations. 

  6. ReAssess:  There is a 6th step that Gibbs implies… you should assess  your actions to see how effective they were and decide if you need to go through the cycle again or file this success away in your memory for the future.

No Better Time

It’s the end of the year and the start of a new; there’s no better time for resolutions. And, there’s no better way to approach them than doing so reflectively. While the journey to get there may take you out of your comfort zone, the destination may prove to be the greatest reward.