There is something only you can live: your life. Socrates said that ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’. Being oneself, living your life and examining it, all these things need reflection time. Call it how you want, but it’s ‘stop and think’.
Reflection is for me the key ingredient of leadership. A super-doer, super-achiever, super-energetic leader with little reflection attached is not a good leader. An energy-sucking machine is not the same as a strong leadership.
So, what’s reflection time? You can have it in many forms and shapes. The universal way is a myth. Some people need to disappear to a remote and exotic land to do that. Great! Well, great for them if it works. Other people, more prosaic ways of life, need ‘time outs’. But not all time out is reflective. It may be restful, or energising, but not necessarily reflective. Long journeys or short ones, you need to find your way.
There is a tradition in many spiritual writings (and, as such, attributed to many authors) that says that the true spiritual journey is one inch long. That is, look inside your head. My geometrical version of this is that instead of a 360-degree feedback system, so overused and abused in management; people need to learn the 45-degree feedback first: look yourself in the eye in the mirror. Small angle, short journey, you see? All manageable!
To be reflective is to ask questions. It sounds simple but, since we have been educated to produce answers (look at the state of current education systems) more than in the art of questioning, it may be harder than we think. It’s inevitable that some psychological conditions such as lack of distractions are required. Again, spiritual traditions of many sorts practice the 3S: silence, stillness and solitude. These are the hardest things you can ask many leaders to do. Trust me, I try. I run a leadership retreat based on them. In the absence of perfect conditions, I ask leaders to practice very small tricks as ‘initiation’ (!): drive with the radio off is a very popular one.
There is no obvious substitute for reflection in leadership. Perhaps the first steps are about reflecting on all these topics! The best books on leadership are books of questions. The best leadership development programmes are programmes full of questions. One of the greatest investments we can make in personal and professional development is the art of questioning.
Reflection and questioning are brothers. Again, non-outsource-able. Nobody can reflect or question for you.