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.

10 thoughts on “Leadership Longevity: Four Essential Practices – Learn (Part 3 of 5)”

  1. Thanks for the insight. This is sound advice! Reflecting is a good way to evaluate, plan, and stay focused on what is really important. Sometimes we get so busy at being busy that we fail to really make an impact. I remember hearing a pastor somewhere say “don’t confuse activity with productivity”.

  2. Thank you much David,

    I look forward to feedback from you afterward.

    The process has given me depth as I pause to better understand “ME” and my journey!

  3. I am so glad I subscribed to this blog. As a recent college graduate, I am struggling with making the right decisions in the beginning of my career. Your posts opened my eyes to handling situations that I am not used to. With the new situations that arise during my career, I want to find a way to handle them without conflict and strife. I will begin to reflect on those situations… But first I will listen! Thanks for the blog!

  4. Pastor Todd once again you make us all think. I stated doing the prison ministry with Gus about 2 months ago, I’m at Haralson co jail every 3rd sunday. Everytime Sunday when you preach I try to pull something away from it and 9/10 times I do and I do what I can to apply it one-day I would like to be ordained and preach the word as good as you. Thanks a lot for this blog.

  5. Todd, I recently came across your blog and I’ve really enjoyed it.

    These are some great insights. I’ve been told that the best teacher is not experience, but evaluated experience. Thanks again for the reminder that we have to be intentional if we are going learn from our experiences.

    -Jonathan Etress

    1. Thanks Much Jonathan! Glad you found it and glad it added value! I’m grateful for your continued work on the campus of UWGA.

      Reflection is a great discipline to implement at any age, but especially while you are young. I hope you will subscribe to to receive my posts each week. I’m in Czech Republic teaching leadership at the moment so pray for the young adults receiving the training. God Bless and stay tuned!

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