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Why Leaders Need to Deliberately Make Time for Quiet Self-Reflection

Start a management degree at American Public University.

By Dr. Bjorn Mercer
Program Director, Communication, Humanities, Music, Philosophy, Religion and World Languages Programs, American Public University

When you are a leader, it seems like every day is frantic. There are problems to solve, meetings to run, projects to guide and the never-ending deluge of emails.

As you do all of this work, you have to collaborate with executive leadership, lead your department and develop your direct reports to ensure that they provide clients with the best possible experience. With so much going on, how do you have the time to learn and reflect on how you are doing?

The Difference between Activity and Productivity

A common perception today is that the world is moving at breakneck speed. As leaders, we feel we have to match this pace.

But the reality is that frantic activity and a busy calendar is “mistaking activity for productivity. And productivity demands self-reflection,” according to Harry Kraemer, professor of strategy at Northwestern University.

Leaders need to make time for quiet self-reflection because of the demands placed upon them. The far-reaching decisions they make substantially impact their departments, institutions and individual employees.

In a Harvard Business Review article about leadership self-reflection, Jennifer Porter states there are two ways to start self-reflection. You should “select a reflection process that matches your preferences” and “schedule time for self-reflection.”

How to Make Time for Self-Reflection

The first way to incorporate self-reflection in your life is to block out time on your calendar. Face it: most people are busy with work, family and everything else in between.

If you do not carve out time in your day to self-reflect, then it will not happen. Block off 15 minutes at first and expand that to 30 minutes once you find what works best for you.

Find Activities that Permit You to Think

To self-reflect, you have to find one or more activities that suit you, your personality and your idea of self-reflection. There are many activities that allow people to self-reflect, including:

  • Keeping a journal
  • Writing down your decision-making process and analyzing it after several months have passed
  • Creating a list of your most important tasks
  • Putting together a bucket list

But to really reflect in a way that is different than writing exercises or self-esteem practices, you need to wipe your mind clean and make time for quiet self-reflection.

For some people, quiet self-reflection involves praying, meditation, cleaning their house, walking or running. The best way I have found to self-reflect is to run without listening to music. I run alone with my thoughts.

Quiet Self-Reflection

In my experience, quiet self-reflection can only be achieved when you are alone with your thoughts. For me, I have to be free of any external noises, which means no music, no meditation music, nothing. It’s just me and my thoughts.

When I run, I process what happened that day, what occurred in the past and what might happen in the future. Some people like to have simple meditation music such as tones, but even that is an external stimulus that takes me away from the core of self-reflection. I focus on how I react to the world around me as I try to achieve a greater understanding of people and attempt wise, thoughtful action.

Combine Self-Reflection with Reading

When you have learned to quietly self-reflect, you can then combine it with intentional reading. At first, it is hard to find the time to read. However, as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have attested, the best way to learn and try to understand the world around you is by reading and reading a lot.

Imagine the best book you have read in your life, but you don’t give yourself enough time to think about it. You will forget the wise words you just read in a fortnight. Try reading an amazing book, then quietly reflect on it and see what happens.

The ROI of Self-Reflection

How does all of this self-reflection actually help you as a leader? There is no better practical application of self-reflection and leadership than this excellent quote from Peter Drucker. “Follow effective action with quiet reflection,” he said. “From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.”

About the Author

Dr. Bjorn Mercer is a Program Director at American Public University. He holds a bachelor’s degree in music from Missouri State University, a master’s and doctorate in music from the University of Arizona, and an M.B.A. from the University of Phoenix. He writes about leadership, management and why the humanities and liberal arts are critical to career success. Dr. Mercer also writes children’s music.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer is a Program Director at American Public University. He holds a bachelor’s degree in music from Missouri State University, a master’s and doctorate in music from the University of Arizona, and an M.B.A. from the University of Phoenix. Dr. Mercer also writes children’s music in his spare time.

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