Overcome the 3 Reasons Leaders Fail To Reflect On The Past
August 4, 2009
Operations and IT Consultant
Topicsempathy, Leadership, past experiences, reflect
The more I study leadership, the more a simple truth seems to invade mind: your leadership will improve based on your ability to constructively reflect on your experiences. The quality of your reflection directly affects the quality of your leadership.
There are people who seem to naturally lead well. They easily attract followers and motivate great groups of people to achieve marvelous objectives. Some suggest leaders are"born" and can therefore avoid reflection. Go-it-alone leaders treat the act of reflecting on their experiences as a waste of time. There are very few scenes of John Wayne sitting around thinking deeply about a shootout or of Al Pacino going back to someone and apologizing. Many leaders of the take-charge generation avoid carefully considering their experiences through the filter of time and wisdom.
The leaders you've enjoyed working with the most had a depth of experience and an empathic understanding of their followers. They weren't afraid to reflect critically at the recent past and learn from it. Empathic leaders earn more than submission, they earn respect. Respected leaders are reflective leaders.
Reflecting provides access to one of the great methods of learning. The best lessons are typically learned in reverse, with the test coming before the lesson. Reflecting on the past is the only way to take advantage of test-first learning. Depth of experience comes from accurately processing test-first lessons.
So why do we fail to reflect?
Urgent vs. Important
Many times leaders simply join the next pursuit. We're rewarded for taking the next hill and finishing the next project. We want to be good leaders, but that means staying out front, or so we think. If we stop for any reason, everything else will. We're too important to stop. We don't even remember the last time we took a vacation.
For many, a material or physical setback must slow them down long enough to reflect. Unemployment might slow you down. So will a serious illness. A friend recently experienced a back injury, another neck surgery. Incapacitation frees our minds for reflection. However, even if slowed by circumstances, we still must choose to reflect. Many unemployed people busy themselves with the job search or solitaire or web surfing, romance novels, or TV. Some people enduring a forced slow period busy themselves with just about anything they can to avoid quiet time, reflection, thought. Our world is addicted to amusement. To muse means to think deeply. Amusement means the absence of thought. Think about it. Some amusement is good, however for many, we amuse ourselves to the detriment of our ability to lead effectively.
A variation of this reason is negligence. Some experiences seem negligible in the grand scheme of things. It's easy to make unimportant things small. But many times the best lessons are learned in small events.
Avoid Pain or Guilt
Sometimes we avoid reflection because we didn't like the past. Everyone has been hurt. And most of us, if we're honest think our hurts excuse our behavior and believe our hurts are worse than anyone nearby. (Sure, we know about people in other parts of the world, but in our sphere of friends we've been subjected to more, right?) We have all been hurt, and the pain can keep us from reflecting on the experiences. If we did the hurting, maybe we feel guilt. Guilt will also keep us from reflecting
We're Afraid to be Wrong
"You know, I might have done something differently, but I don't want to think about it. It's over now." Have you ever heard someone say something like that? Have you ever heard yourself say that? Facing our mistakes and learning from them takes courage. That's why it takes courage to lead. Leadership is self-taught and few learn well without some failures.
What are some other reasons why you avoid reflection? Did this cover it? Have you had an experience where you regret not having reflected on an experience? Are there any experiences you'd care to reflect on as a result of this post. Let us know.
Great post! Reflection is a key component of learning and leadership! I really appreciated your perspective on this. This quote in my book “Moments: Making Your Life Count For What Matters Most” complements your point: “Learn from the past, prepare for the future, perform in the moment!”
Mike, Thanks for the comment and the quote. Reflection is only beneficial if it helps you to prepare for the future and perform.
Great post. Feedback is the breakfast of champions, but we need to provide some if it for ourselves. Over the years, I’ve found that clients and class participants seem to do best if they develop a habit of reflection and critique. That usually involves a notebook or other way to record thoughts and a specific time to reflect. For some people it’s part of the activity. Finish the meeting, jot down some notes. For others it’s a daily or weekly time set aside to reflect.
Congratulations! This post was selected as one of the five best independent business blog posts of the week in my Three Star Leadership Midweek Review of the Business Blogs.
.-= Wally Bock´s last blog ..8/5/09: Midweek Look at the Independent Business Blogs =-.
Wally, Thank you for the comment and the plug on the Midweek Look for your Three Star Leadership Blog. You always have great insights and practical advice about leadership.
I enjoyed your post,
Self reflection is key to growth as a leader.
For me it’s a time to confirm I know what I know, as well as know what I don’t know and create an action plan to fill in the gaps.
I share more about this in my blog post: Your “gut” and “intuition” are not enough…today http://nosmokeandmirrors.wordpress.com/2009/02/13/youre-gut-and-intuition-are-not-enoughtoday/
Market leaders understand the need to have refection time to remain humble.
Market losers continue to shoot from the hip as they do not know what they don’t know.
Mark Allen Roberts
Mark, that’s a great reminder that we need to identify what we don’t know or didn’t do right and create an action plan to fill in the gaps. You’re post was a great look into the hows and why’s of doing that. Thanks.
Great post. Let me share some other thoughts. Failure to reflect can also come from not recognizing that a leader must learn to use other approaches that they can integrate into their daily life. Reflection is really all about emotional intelligence. The more seasoned leader you become the more powerful emotional intelligence will be to you; so it’s important to take time to reflect daily.
Naomi Caietti, PMP
Naomi, you’re right on. Many times we fail to reflect out of a lack of empathy for the other person’s point of view. We can’t even consider the possibility that there were different perspectives on decisions we made or actions we took. I lumped this in with fear of being wrong, but it also comes from a lack of emotional intelligence. Thanks for the insight.
[…] is in the air. Last week, Mike Henry posted a fine piece titled: “Three Reasons Why Leaders Fail to Reflect.” This week, I saw two more posts on related […]