Cultivating a Practice of Self-Reflection

I’ve worked with a wide variety of clients over the years from many different industries, and when I solicit feedback from them, I consistently hear that self-reflection is one of the most valuable skills they have acquired during the coaching process.

Self-reflection may strike some as navel-gazing, but quite the opposite is true. A consistent commitment to self-reflection requires honesty, objectivity, and the willingness to acknowledge your own mistakes (as well as your achievements, of course). Executive coaching is a great way to jumpstart this process, but the impetus always lies with the client to follow through.

Jeff Barley, COO of UCI, has this to say about the coaching process: “Tim is not the answer man; he comes in as a coach and asks if you’ve considered this or that as a possibility. He gives you different possibilities to ponder and a couple of different directions that may not have occurred to you.” When asked what he thought was most valuable about executive coaching, he replied, “When I try to summarize the coaching experience, I keep going back to the idea of self-reflection. Tim has helped me think about what I want to do and how to accomplish those goals while making sure they are consistent with what the company is trying to accomplish…That kind of self-reflection process is what has been most important for me.”

We live in a fast-paced world that in many ways discourages the practice of self-reflection. The leadership role itself can also raise barriers to self-reflection—as Chuck Grier, President and CEO of UCI, says, “Sometimes when you’re in the day to day battles in the trenches you don’t stop and think as much as you should, especially when you’re a smaller company and you’re growing.” It’s easy to get caught up in the distractions of both work and home life. But cultivating a practice of self-reflection is a truly worthwhile endeavor.

It doesn’t have to take much time out of your day—take five to ten minutes, whether it’s during your lunch break, during your morning commute, or right before you go to bed, to think about what you’ve accomplished recently and what still needs to be done. Write these down if you can. Journaling is a great way to engage in self-reflection, and it doesn’t need to time-consuming either; even writing down a few bullet points can be a huge benefit down the road. The bottom line is that every leader needs to understand the choices she or he has made and whether those choices reflect his or her goals and the best interests of the organization.

Self-reflection is like a garden. Tend it well, be consistent and purposeful, and you’ll see growth in no time.

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