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Taking Another Look: Leading Minds on Reflection Part 3

In part three of this series, James Strock talks about the importance of taking time “off” from one’s customary activities. He also gives insight into gaining perspective through reflection. Mark Sanborn talks about the essential nature of making time to think so that we might learn and gain insight from our experiences. He lists some areas we should be thinking about so that we might get the most out of our time reflecting.

  James Strock, speaker, consultant and entrepreneur:

There is nothing more important—or more easily overlooked—than making time for disciplined reflection. Indeed, it should be scheduled—and protected and enforced—with the utmost seriousness.

Religious traditions include notions of a Sabbath, a day of rest and reflection. It’s a recognition that taking time “off” from one’s customary activities is necessary to fulfill one’s obligations, to perform effectively over time. It’s also an act of humility, pulling people away from a prideful presumption of the significance of their personal contribution and control when it tends toward isolating, habitual overwork.

It’s surely not a coincidence that so many of the greatest leaders have been noted for multiple interests. Winston Churchill was active as a painter, speaker, historian, and commentator on current events. Theodore Roosevelt was, in the memorable description of Brander Matthews, “polygonal.” George Washington and Abraham Lincoln maintained perspective through theatre. Though it would be an error to say that effective leaders have “balanced” lives at any given moment, they tend to bring a number of interests to bear—thereby increasing their capacity to see things from various perspectives, and to discern and appreciate the contributions of others.

In business, one thinks of Bill Gates’ semi-annual, week-long sabbaticals for study and reflection. Many enterprises—from Google and GE to sports teams—encourage regular meditation or related mental exercises. To the extent each day can be seen as a sort of lifetime in itself, meditation or prayer can also be viewed as a sabbatical of sorts.

In my personal experience, travel can be invaluable. Simply being pulled out of one’s daily routines and habits, and being inspired by new surroundings, can be mentally and spiritually invigorating. You may see familiar notions with new eyes.

Though disciplined reflection has always been important for leadership, it’s arguably more important now than ever before. In the 21st century, information and data are often ubiquitous. The value added by leaders—either in high positions or not—increasingly arises from those invaluable intangibles: judgment and insight. Both of those are more likely to be found with disciplined reflection. And there’s no better place to start than from history and the observations and experiences of others, such as is offered so notably by LeadershipNow.

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  Mark Sanborn, author and speaker:

Someone once said if we don't slow down occasionally nothing good can ever catch us. I think that sentiment applies to the good that can come out of reflection.

One of the reasons we don't learn—truly internalize lessons—and keep making similar mistakes is that we don't pause long enough to gain any insights.

Most of the busy and successful professionals I work with—and myself included—can go for long periods of time without actively thinking. We reactively think—response to questions, problems, opportunities, etc.—but don't make time to proactively think.

I frequently say that nobody has time for anything; we make time for what is important. So often we live life be default and let circumstance and the demands of others determine how we spend out time. I believe we need to make time for reflection. We make time when we priorities, eliminate and adjust our schedules.

Specifically, I think leaders should reflect on:
  1. What they are accomplishing versus how busy they are.
  2. What they have learned. Leaders need to extract lessons from both the positive and negative things that happen.
  3. How they are feeling. Leaders can't divorce their intellect from their emotions and succeed over the long run.
  4. Relationships that need attention.
  5. Their vision of the future, for their organizations, those they lead and themselves.
  6. And for leaders who believe in the spiritual realm, as I do, that is a critical area for reflection (prayer and meditation in the Christian tradition I follow).
Reflection usually requires "getting away" whether that requires a physical relocation to a peaceful thinking spot or simply blocking time to avoid interruptions.

And finally, I think those leaders who value reflection and benefit most from it make it a regular part of their schedules.

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There is a hierarchy of communication we all practice, in which electronic and immediate data responses reign far above in-person and more time-intensive, dialogue-driven interaction. The trade-off is easy to make: we gain speed, immediate connection, and reactions while giving up richer contexts that emerge only when we take time to think. There are times when the arrival of each new electronic message or data-driven distraction has become a digital proxy for the sound of a bell once used by a doctor named Pavlov.
—Daniel Patrick Forrester, Consider

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More in this Series:
  Taking Another Look: Leading Minds on Reflection Part 4
  Taking Another Look: Leading Minds on Reflection Part 2
  Taking Another Look: Leading Minds on Reflection Part 1
  Consider: Harnessing the Power of Reflective Thinking in Your Organization

Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:58 AM
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Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Taking Another Look: Leading Minds on Reflection Part 3:

» Taking Another Look: Leading Minds on Reflection Part 4 from Leading Blog: A Leadership Blog
In the final part of this series, Marshall Goldsmith explains the relevancy of reflection in today’s world. It has always been a vital ingredient to success, but it becomes critical in the age of the knowledge worker. Jeremy Hunter teaches... [Read More]

» Taking Another Look: Leading Minds on Reflection Part 2 from Leading Blog: A Leadership Blog
In part two of this series, Tom Asacker philosophizes about the nature of reflection. His insights help us to understand that until we start to see our connection to reality, core changes rarely happen. Have we given the proper consideration... [Read More]

» From Values to Action from Leading Blog: A Leadership Blog
Former chairman and chief executive officer of Baxter International, Harry Kraemer, has written a genuine, back-to-basics book on value-based leadership: From Values to Action. He presents four interconnected principles that build on and contribute to ... [Read More]

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