Time to reflect? Seven steps to get you started

Katherine William-Powlett shares her thoughts on innovation and on leadership in the voluntary sector. Katherine no longer works for NCVO but her posts have been archived on this site for reference.

A new year 2013 fills us with thoughts of new beginnings, but before you launch into them it is worth reflecting on your leadership in the past year. What changes did you make? What impact did you have? What could have gone better?


John F Kennedy said ‘Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other’. One way a leader can learn about him or herself is to purposefully reflect on how he or she practices leadership.

On our leadership development programme last year (sponsored by Barclay’s) all participants were asked to keep a reflective journal. Some were initially resistant to the idea. By the end, many were complete converts to the benefits of reflecting with purpose. One delegate used it to rehearse how she would deal with a problematic staff issue. She found that she was then able to confront a situation she had been avoiding with confidence and assurance. As one delegate said at the end of the programme, ‘I will reflect, reflect, reflect- I really enjoyed rediscovering this practice again’.

I often find when I talk to people at conferences that what they most value about them is the time to step back and take a fresh look at their organisations.  Somehow, it is hard to find the time to do this day to day, but maybe it is one of the most important things you can do as a leader. So how do you do it? Here is a seven step guide to get you started.

1.  Buy an A5 hardback notebook that you like the look and feel of
2.  Mentally commit to purposeful reflection at least once a week
3.  Dedicate a time and place that you can devote to reflection
4.  Identify an experience you have had as a leader
5.  Observe the experience e.g. by writing about it as if you were another person
6.  Conceptualise a theory of what you observed
7.  Plan a way of applying what you have learned about yourself

For example, Mary, a CEO at a small homelessness charity identified that she repeatedly did not stand up for her ideas to the founder chair in board meetings. She observed the most recent board meeting by writing about it as if it was a scene in a play. She noticed he always sat at the head of the table and she always sat some way away, that he made her feel small even though she felt she had thorough knowledge of the issues at hand, and that the other trustees did not back her up. She realised through reflection that she was not getting the support she needed because she was not involving the trustees in the activities of the charity. Through developing the theory that trustees were not sufficiently involved, she arranged a ‘Get to know us’ day for trustees and stakeholders. This was a great success and gave her more confidence when putting forward new ideas in board meetings.

Of course there are many other methods of reflection and you need to find one that suits you –it might be by blogging, sketching or being listened to by a trusted colleague.  I find writing by hand works best for me but then I am probably one of the few people left in the world who writes letters with an ink pen!

Using a Johari Window http://www.unfoldingleadership.com/blog/?p=171

Using Blogs to reflect http://deoracle.org/online-pedagogy/teaching-strategies/application-of-blogs.html

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