Leadership Longevity: Four Essential Practices – Learn (Part 3 of 5)

Many leaders believe that increased age, experience, and tenure automatically equate to “learning”. Such a thought is delusional, and is much too common. If it were true, every old person, leader or not, would be a genius. It’s true that everyone gets experience, but not everyone learns from the experience they get. Frequent intense reflection, meditation, and “note-taking” about those experiences are absolutely essential.

1.    Reasons to Reflect.

Deep reflection is essential in all transformational learning: experiential or academic.  Through it we are transformed as our newfound knowledge is repeated and rooted in our psyche until it becomes as familiar as our own name. It becomes “second nature”, and we become better.

I learned the value of reflection during one of my darkest hours as a leader. It was 1992, and I was overwhelmed, depressed, disillusioned, and ready to quit. I was introduced, by a friend, to John Maxwell who spoke that day about his process for reflecting to learn. It’s been a regular practice for me since that day. It has paid HUGE dividends.

2.    Times to Reflect.

I try to spend a few minutes reflecting each day, and a few hours reflecting after every major campaign, project, or experience. I also reflect when I travel. There is something about sitting on a plane for several hours, with a pen and legal pad that helps me think more clearly about where I have been and where I’m going. My most productive time to reflect is the last week of each year. Since that special day of learning in 1992, some of my biggest decisions have been made between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. While many people are making gift exchanges, going to “after Christmas sales”, or enjoying a quick vacation, I am reflecting about: the year just finished, my life as a whole, and the relationships I treasure. Then I make key decisions, based upon that reflection, that I believe will improve every facet of my life. That’s has been my practice now for 20 years. It’s a habit I plan to continue until I die.

3.    Ways to Reflect

The process of reflection is all about asking questions about the past. “Why did…?” “What if…?” “How could…?” No question is off limits during reflection time! Questions about the problems we faced, the process we followed, the pain we experienced, the principles we learned, and the people we served with. After this time of reflection, I can better answer the question, “What’s next?” While the process of reflection is centered on the past, the payoff of reflection is all about the future!

It’s this exercise of reflection that has kept me on the path of personal growth by truly learning from the experiences I’ve faced, rather than just passing off time! It’s been a major player in my leadership longevity.