Why leaders need to be self-reflective

Coach Oliver Hansard outlines why self-reflection is essential for leaders and managers.

Women in a suit smiling at work


There is little doubt that the modern leader is paid for action, and success is measured by the consequences of those actions. However, what actions should a leader take in times of extreme uncertainty?

Usually there is no right answer, only the least bad option. However, if, like me, you believe the quality of a decision is derived from the quality of the thinking and reflection prior to taking action, appropriate self-reflection becomes an effective tool.

Learning to reflect and blend those reflections into the next round of decisions and actions is critical to the development of any leader, particularly when operating in consistent ambiguity. So why reflect and develop one’s self-reflective skills?

Here are just a few reasons:

Reflection enables us to galvanise resources that are both within us and around us. We are remarkable libraries of ideas and experiences; reflecting enables us to access that which resides within us and which is difficult to access in the heat of the moment.

Effective self-reflection usually opens up a range of new choices, a form of experiential learning. Perhaps some of these options may have been lying fallow for a while; it might be the case that they have risen in consciousness as a result of a comment or contribution of someone else in the team.

Quality thinking time permits new, strong feelings to emerge, feelings which can be subjective, yet which can provide a directional effect of enabling a leader to know what might be the best path or new opportunity.

At its best, self-reflection demonstrates the interconnectedness of thoughts, issues and potential options. In one sense, reflection enables the thinker/leader to spread out all the various options onto a table, take a step back and consider how they sit together.

At their most effective, a reflective leader will become more open and creative, and engender more openness and creativity in those around them. Greater clarity of diverse and collective thought will follow as will better, more consistent collegiate decisions. Individuals can operate more calmly, reduce anxiety in uncertainty and create a culture where the team has the confidence to try things with less fear of retribution if things go wrong. Listening with honesty and well-intended judgement often assists appropriate course correction.

So, start reflecting; the best leaders do. Use it as a key tool in dealing with difficult situations and ambiguity in uncertain times. Start by making it a deliberate act by putting time in the diary. In time it will come in increasingly natural to you to the extent you may make it part of your consistent leadership approach. Don’t fear it; don’t consider it wasted time. Embrace self-reflection as it may well empower you in a way you never expected, particularly when you need it most.

*Oliver Hansard is a Business Coach and Founder of Hansard Coaching. [email protected]

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