Do you ever reflect about reflection? This fall, I’ve found myself doing this especially as I prepared to talk with the College of Charleston’s MBA class of 2022 about the power of reflection, including how to build a daily reflection habit.
Considering that I’m a fairly late adopter of the valuable practice of reflection, it’s an odd and interesting place to be. Compared with many individuals with deep reflection practices, I still consider myself a beginner, which adds another layer to this story.
These days, teachers and students are often flipping roles, as one of my habit teachers emphasized to our class last year. Sometimes those with a great depth of expertise and experience can clearly illuminate a topic yet fall short on helping others figure out how to execute on it.. Relative newcomers to a field are sometimes able to coach others to take action and continue to follow through.
Her advice? Be aware of what you know and what you’re doing, be transparent, and make sure you do no harm. That’s what I kept reminding myself as I prepared for and delivered my talk, based on a discussion last summer with group of executive coaches who voluntarily coach College of Charleston MBA students each school year.
These executive coaches also had agreed to volunteer their time for a special project: helping redesign the MBA coaching program to make it stand-alone for this academic year. For its first four years of existence, the coaching program was closely integrated with the MBA’s primary leadership class, taught by the professor who developed and managed the coaching program. The professor is on sabbatical this year, which prompted the need for change.
As we coaches plus the professor reflected on the benefits of the current coaching program, we realized we were about to lose a valuable feature. It’s a standard element for the MBA students since the beginning but is absent for our regular paying clients: bi-directional reinforcement between classes and coaching. We coaches often referred to concepts the students were learning about in their leadership class. And vice versa. In class, the students saw connections between their schoolwork and the insights they were gaining from coaching. This reinforcement is especially useful for learning and recall.
Could we replicate this reinforcement in some other way, we coaches wondered? Yes! How about if we encouraged students to reflect, that is consciously to take time to consider their beliefs and actions around coaching, school, and life with the goal to learn? And even better, we could help them develop a habit of reflection. By learning at a relatively young age to pause and reflect, they could build a powerful muscle that could strengthen their career as well as their life.
So that was the impetus for me meeting with the students on an “MBA Friday” to talk about the power of reflection. As the interim director for the MBA coaching program this year, I’ve participated in a couple of these weekly forums required for all students. These forums help introduce and reinforce key leadership and coaching concepts with all the students, including the 48 out of 54 MBA students who have voluntarily signed up for the school’s executive coaching benefit.
In introducing the value of reflection, I described five benefits: 1) increasing your self-awareness; 2) generating insights; 3) improving your understanding of others, which also helps with empathy; 4) enhancing problem solving and 5) boosting innovation. As an aside, if you’re on the fence about the value of reflection, check out this insightful 2017 HBR article, Why You Should Make Time for Self-Reflection (Even If You Hate Doing It) by Jennifer Porter.
After sharing a variety of reflection questions with the students to get them started, and hearing from a few students who are already reflecting (Kudos to them!), I confirmed that there’s no one right or wrong way to reflect. Many different approaches and techniques exist, similar to meditation, exercise, and other well-being practices. Since everyone is different, you need to experiment to find the one that’s most suited for you. And remember, similar to exercise and meditation, some reflective practice is better than none.
Then when I turned to explain how to create a habit of reflection, based on my decade of work with Dr. BJ Fogg, the inventor of Tiny Habits, I was back in my comfort zone.
And in case you haven’t noticed, the habit of reflection is another powerful combination.
If you don’t yet have a reflection habit and want to know more, just ask me.
Connect the dots plus dot the “i”s to be more intentional, inquisitive and inclusive
How well are you tapping into the skills and wisdom you need to lead in a VUCA world?
All the old playbooks are out-of-date. Instead, you need to reach inside yourself, tap into your wisdom, and connect the dots for yourself and others.
To start, you can use these 5 tips to embrace your humanity and become a better leader.