This year has been an extremely tough year on many of us. As we come to the tail-end of yet another busy year, I have personally found that I can hardly find time to get many final operational matters resolved.
Yet, I know that one of the most important pieces of me continuing to be an effective leader for my organisation is to take time off and reflect.
Trying to find five to six hours alone to reflect has become a nightmare with numerous phone calls, messages, distractions, kids, and unresolved issues from this past year. Still, I know that taking time to reflect is critical for my personal success.
The power of reflection
The practice of reflection goes back centuries and is rooted in numerous institutions including the Japanese samurai. Ben Franklin, one of my leadership heroes, had a daily ritual of reflection.
A sincere examination of ourselves is never easy. It involves the willingness to face and acknowledge our mistakes, failures and shortcomings. Albert Schweitzer, Nobel winner, believes reflection in life is critical to leadership as it allows you to take into “account what you have neglected in thoughtlessness.”
Interestingly, a key step in the Alcoholics Anonymous programme asks participants to make a probing and courageous moral inventory.
All great leaders reflect. Today, meditating and spending time alone in reflection and personal learning is a key part of the leadership journey.
In fact, many great organisations spend the month of December reflecting on services they rendered in the past 11 months and how they can further improve in the following year.
Reflection allows us to learn from mistakes. We all make mistakes – I have done so spectacularly at times. We have all been in situations where things don’t go exactly to plan. But how often do we take time to sit down to reflect on where it all went wrong?
Plato’s great words “know thyself” implies that a lifetime of self-investigation is the cornerstone for knowledge.
John Dewey states:
“We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience.”
Dewey understood what scientists are only figuring out today – all learning is obtained through reflection.
As we end this year, we need to take time to reflect on the past year. Here are 12 questions to quick-start your reflection process.
Take a few hours, maybe an afternoon, lock yourself in a private place or a café, and ask yourself these questions. Answer them honestly, and you will be surprised with what you learn from your actions and behaviour this year and how you need to improve, change and grow for the following year.
- Did you manage to achieve your goals you set for the year?
What were the goals you set for yourself? How did you fare? Were the goals realistic? Were the goals aligned to your long-term goals for your life?
- What did you do well this year?What makes you most proud as you think of your achievements this past year? What were your “wins”? Did you take time to celebrate them? Why were these “wins” important to you in relation to your long-term goals?
- Did you fail in any area? I recently wrote about writing out our failure resume often. At the end of the year, although we may dislike looking at our failures, it is a critical part of the reflection process. Especially if we plan to grow ourselves for the coming year.
Why did you fail? Was it because of willpower issues? Or was it because of an unexpected obstacle?
- What could you have done better?List down all the areas you feel you could have done better. Be honest with yourself and ask yourself how you could have managed the items on your list better.
As you jot down your thoughts, these new areas of improvement can be part of your personal development plan for the upcoming year.
- Did you have any regrets this past year?Were there relationships that you could have managed better? Were there people you hurt? Did you pass up an opportunity which you regret? Did you end up wasting time on frivolous work?
List them all down and you will not make these same mistakes in the new year.
- What lessons did you learn?Clearly list down all the lessons you learnt from the past year. Every year, I personally review all my lessons learnt from different people and situations. I even write an article (which has become a tradition in StarBiz and Leaderonomics.com) which outlines the lessons I learnt from corporate Malaysian leaders.
Do you clearly write out all your lessons learnt from the year? If you do not, you may soon forget the lesson and history may repeat itself.
- Did you grow this year?Have you grown emotionally, spiritually, physically and also grown in your relationship?
- What were the five best books/articles you read this year and what did you learn from them?If you are didn’t read at least five books this year, make it your goal to do so. What were some of the key lessons in your readings?
- What do you need to eliminate or reduce?One of the tools I love from Prof Chan Kim’s Blue Ocean Strategy book is called ERRC (Eliminate, Reduce, Raise and Create). Let’s reflect on the “E” and the first “R”.
What do you need to eliminate from your life? List down all the things that you may be doing or plan to do that you need to get rid of from your life. It could be simple things like dropping by the shop to pick up chocolates after work or eliminating time-wasting practices.
You may also want to explore areas to reduce. You may currently enjoy spending an hour on Facebook each day but you may want to reduce it to 30 minutes. Reflect on this past year and list down such areas.
- What do you need to do more of?The next part of the ERRC model is to reflect and list on things you need to RAISE. So, what are things you should be doing more of in the new year? For example, if you currently exercise once a week, maybe it is time to raise it to three times a week.
Think of areas you need to RAISE and do more of in your life.
- What ‘different’ and ‘new’ things should you plan to do for the New Year?The final part of the ERRC Model is to CREATE.
The idea here is to reflect on things you may have not tried in the past year and come up with a list of areas or activities that you should now incorporate into your life. For example, you may have approached a client relationship in a specific way in the past and it did not seem to yield fruits.
Maybe it is time to take a different approach and create a different relationship with your client.
- Has this year changed your long-term goal?We all need to have a long-term vision or purpose. If we are not clear of it, we will never be able to craft our yearly goals accordingly. If you are unclear of your long-term goals, spend some time crafting a personal mission statement or a personal legacy statement.
If you do have one, reflect on how this year has helped you get closer to your long-term goal. As you reflect, you may end up altering or tweaking your long-term goal. Don’t be afraid to do so. The clearer you are of your long-term purpose, the more likely you are to reach it.
One final thing you can do as you finish your reflection is to write up a sentence to summarise your year. As the years go by, you can go back to each year and look at how each year has been a meaningful forward progress to your big end-goal or purpose.
Reflection is not easy to do. Most of us are so busy that we never find time to reflect. When we don’t reflect, we never really learn. This year end, especially if the fire in our eyes has diminished and we are going through life on auto-pilot, with the joy of life seemingly leaked out, do take time to take stock of life and reflect.
Socrates, Ben Franklin and most great leaders believed that reflection led to a productive and fulfilling life. I will end the year with a parting statement from Buddha who claims:
“All that we are is the result of what we have thought.”
Happy reflecting and best wishes for a blessed 2015 from all of us at Leaderonomics!
Roshan is looking forward to 2015 after a tough 2014. He wishes each and every one of you a blessed time of reflection and an awesome 2015 ahead. Happy new year! Do check out www.leaderonomics.com for more articles by Roshan.