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Resiliency Habit #7: Reflection

Posted Jan 4th, 2019

9 Habits of Resilience for Highly Effective Leaders:

  1. Building Commitment to Ourselves
  2. Physical Fitness
  3. Brain Fitness: Stilling the mind, developing patience
  4. Brain Fitness: Focusing the mind
  5. Knowing Our Purpose
  6. Integrative thinking
  7. Daily Reflection
  8. Personal Operating Principles
  9. Building and Maintaining Networks | Coming Soon!

Habit #7: Reflection

“To go within is not to turn our back on the world; it is to prepare ourselves to serve it most effectively.” - Marianne Williamson
  • How often do you relate KPIs and KPOs back to strategy?
  • How often do you fly up to 30,000 feet and view key accountabilities or accounts from that perspective?
  • What disciplines do you have in place that enable your staff to stay on-purpose and on-priority?
  • How often do you present performance feedback on the fly?
  • How often do you enter meetings unprepared?

All of these practices are improved with reflection, preparation and evaluation. Most of us know this but still do not take the time to block out time in our calendars for reflection.

For many of us, the only time we take time out of our busy schedule of doing, is in January when we pause to reflect on the past and think about how to create an even better future in the coming year. January 1 is the time of year when in the North American culture, we review the year past, looking for achievements, experiences and joys to appreciate, and for opportunities missed, perhaps both in our professional and in our personal lives. We do an inventory of where our accomplishments matched our goals and where we missed the mark. We then set new objectives for 2011.

The media bombards us with articles about New Year resolutions, asking “What are you going to do differently this ear?” I want instead to pose the question “How will you think differently about what it is you intend to do and why?

Performance in the business world is measured almost exclusively by actionables, outcomes, deliverables, results. Even though studies show that performance is enhanced by thoughtfully setting strategy, aligning objectives to these critical few, and making adjustments as the environment requires and that the way to do that is to take time every day to reflect, prepare and evaluate, we are reluctant to interrupt” doing” to think. What many businesses do is back up all evaluation and predictive processes into this time of year: strategy, business plans, performance development plans and compensation review.

We rush through these important processes, and then we return to doing for the remainder of the year. We are afraid that if we reflect or relax at other times we might lose our competitive edge and our productivity. The reverse is verifiably true: the busier we are the duller our minds become as our mind-body is not getting the fuel it needs to operate efficiently. It’s like the carpenter saying that he is so busy working that he doesn’t have time to sharpen his saw. Instead, stop, sharpen the saw, and then use its clean edge for attending to what Stephen Covey named the important, not the urgent, which includes long-term planning, thinking, and evaluation.

My June 2010 blog talked about how to improve energy management through understanding and respecting our daily ultradian rhythms with the use of resilience rituals. This same research creates a foundation for the argument about the value of reflection. Without shifting brain centres throughout the day, your brain chemistry suffers and the neo cortex is less productive. If you have just spent 2 hours focused on work, take time to change up your brain wave activity as you go into a physiological energy trough.

I recommend a quick cardiovascular exercise or a connection with another person. Then, capitalize on the brain chemistry and energy generated and come back to a reflective practice before launching into more doing. Vary your mental activities throughout the day between doing or implementing and planning, creative thinking, and evaluating. The benefit of the practice of reflection is a greater likelihood of staying on track with your plans and adjusting the plans when conditions change. This contributes greatly to resilience.

A primary reason that most of us are disappointed by what we achieved in 2010 is that we have not revisited our objectives since last January and they slip away from us in the maelstrom of external demands placed on us. The question to ask yourself now is how to build a process of frequent review of behaviors so as to appreciate where alignment is occurring or not, where conditions are changing, what internal and external obstacles are preventing us from meeting the mark, and how we can redirect ourselves.

Ask yourself:

  • Why am I doing what I am doing?
  • Is my lens wide enough?
  • What are the critical few strategies in my professional life? My personal life? At work the critical few are the concrete behaviours which support the purpose or strategy you have identified and may include plans, projects, tasks, partnerships, development of people, building networks, influencing peers, your own leadership development goals, scanning for emerging market trends or consulting with stakeholders for improved customer satisfaction.
  • Am I (and my team) investing sufficient time and energy on them? If not, why not? What is pulling me off purpose?
  • What can I do to change that pattern of behaviour? deal with competing commitments? dissolve obstacles?
  • What other strategies could I employ this year to monitor alignment between actions and the critical few on a more frequent basis?
  • What do I need to do differently to refocus myself and others on the critical few and monitor alignment between them and work plans?

Planning

Before attending a meeting, initiating a conversation of influence, making a complex decision, or determining how to approach an ambiguous or complex problem, take time to plan it out. It is a proven fact that the more prepared we are, the better the product, service or communication we deliver. And we are coming to appreciate how every transaction involves interaction; so we need to plan for both the what and the how.

Take time to write out the key points you want to make in a meeting and the questions you would like answered. Think about how others may react and account for that in your approach. Take time to articulate your opening statement and concrete examples of the feedback you want to deliver to a team member. Write out the essential points you will make in pitching an idea to a new customer and how you will intrigue and engage him. Or, if building relationship with certain peers or senior people in your organization is a priority, make a list and systematically book and execute one such informal meeting over coffee or lunch once a month. This planning time is a huge investment in both efficiency and effectiveness.

Similarly good intentions for living out a personal strategy like improving your health or creating more connection with significant people in your life such as your spouse or children, require planning and concrete actions to become realized. Book blocks of time in your schedule to go to the gym, play guitar, meet your wife for lunch (when both of you have high quality energy for conversation) or attend your child’s school play.

It is absolutely critical that you schedule this planning time in as formal and indelible a way as you would an action or a meeting. It should be the first entry in your calendar for any given week and if you are fortunate enough to have an admin assistant s/he needs to understand the value of it and to protect it for you. Treat is as sacrosanct and over time it will be embedded as the priority you now say it is. Without such planning, these good intentions get cancelled in favor of the immediate demands of the workplace, and your productivity and fulfillment suffer.

Thinking

Thinking has many purposes and forms. The first step is to identify the form required to address a particular strategy or even an emerging, ambiguous, unanticipated circumstance. It might require brainstorming, mind mapping, analyzing, researching, developing, innovating, challenging, predicting, integrating or evaluating. Each process has a rigorous methodology. Each requires knowing who you need to have in the room. Each must occur at a particular place in a delivery schedule, and the quality and experience of the product or service will be compromised without due thought applied. If we do dedicate a time during the day when our energy is strong to purposeful thinking, we are raising the value of our results significantly.

Extroverted-preference people need to do their thinking out loud. Invite others to join you, use the whiteboard or voice-activated software, move around the room.. Introverted-preference people prefer to think something through first alone and inwardly, and then bring their fairly well-formulated thoughts to a forum for discussion. In groups, we do optimally thinking for allowing for both these preferred styles. And we must schedule time accordingly to allow for best thinking practices to play out from beginning to end.

Evaluating

If you are innovating, initiating, experimenting, trying a new way of doing things, the value is doubled by taking time to debrief the experience and its value afterwards, extract the learnings and document them in a way that will serve you in the future. For example, if you are normally conflict- averse and you had the courage to take a risk and challenge someone else’s thinking or provide someone with feedback on something they are doing which has a negative impact on your group, and you spent time preparing how you would deliver the message, debriefing the experience and drawing your own conclusions about the value gained is essential for your growth. It also allows you to assess if you have reached the desired outcome: improved relationship and a willingness to change.

The most effective leaders use various notebooks in hard or electronic copy, to document their progress in such behaviours. For example, perhaps you decide to change the content of your regular one-on-one meetings with your staff to include a 20 minute period focused on their developmental and career needs. They set the agenda and you have contributions to make. Optimal value results from your making some notes before and after each of these sessions and referring back to them to track any actionables you might have agreed to, and their progress to date. Similarly, if you are running a cross-functional project in a different way this year, notes about the design, structure, process and engagement before and after each meeting can add great value.

Once we establish a reflective practice, its value becomes obvious to us and is reinforced by the improvements in both productivity and our fulfillment for ourselves and our teams.
The hard part is breaking the old habit based on a western cultural belief system that the busier and more over-scheduled we are with activity, the more important and indispensable we are. Add to that our current environment of ever-changing conditions, downsizing and restructuring, in which uncertainty breeds fear for many of us, and we easily retreat to old beliefs. Our challenge now is to appreciate how it is these very conditions that require attention to the important and the emerging.

I challenge you to add 3 hours of reflection to your week starting today.

And as always, I encourage comments/ discussion/ case studies from you.

References

"First Things First”, Stephen Covey
“ZBA: Zen of Business Administration”. Marc Lesser

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