Great leaders are great reflectors. They use reflection to continuously improve their sense-making capabilities. Reflection allows them to plan better, to contemplate difficult decisions or to think more deeply about an issue or topic. They are able to "make" time to reflect. Even in today's extremely fast-paced, always on, always connected and real-time-everything way of conducting our lives, great leaders find different ways to allow themselves to reflect. Rock-hunting is one of my go-to reflection techniques.
Over the last 30 plus years, I have practiced the art of rock-hunting. It basically entails finding a remote spot – a mountain or a beach for example – and look for rocks. Over the years, I have improved my rock-hunting skills and have found some very unique treasures and precious (at least in the eye of the beholder) rocks and minerals. But what I truly "treasure" most about rock hunting, is the inner peace it creates for me. The repetitive steps of walking, looking (or hunting), bending, picking up a rock, observing its features and making a "keep or throw away" decision, are tremendously calming. My mind seems to be able to relax and I am able to reflect and think about things more clearly.
On my most recent rock-hunting adventure, I thought about all the benefits this reflection exercise creates:
• It fosters an open mind. Practicing open mindedness can be difficult as we sometimes fall into the trap of not realizing how an environment is changing us in a way that we may no longer value. Reflection can be a great tool in keeping an open mind. Asking the simple questions: "What would be a different point of view?" or "Would I have supported this in the past?" can aide in the reflection process.
• It improves conflict management. In our increasingly polarized world, reflection can allow us to conquer judgement – especially about feelings or beliefs of others. At times, we tend to judge too quickly, especially around topics on which we have our own strong views and beliefs. More time for reflection can allow us to think about the other point of view and may create a platform for more constructive dialogue.
• It creates perspective. Reflection increases our understanding about a matter, by connecting a topic to past experiences or different data points. A stronger level of perspective also allows us to challenge ourselves. It can keep us more grounded and less opinionated – especially around topics and issues which are complex or ambiguous.
• It simply re-energizes. Even if it does not result into any outcomes or clear paths forward, reflection can create a lot of positive impacts. Examples can include: thinking about problems through a much more positive lens; being energized to conquer a new challenge; or simply by concluding to pause or revisit a topic or issue at a later stage.
We all have those unique "clearing your mind" activities, which enable us to reflect. Great leaders not only practice but encourage reflection. They give their teams space and time to do so. Of course, this can be very difficult in our extremely fast-paced world of meetings and deadlines. However, it can make all the difference between success and failure. I would like to end with a great quote by Confucius: "By three methods we may learn wisdom: first, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest".