Looking Back, Moving Forward

Jan 01, 2016 10 Min Read
moving forward, change
What’s your reflection and renewal process?

I am a pretty competitive person. Over the past 10 years, I witnessed most of my peers quit competitive sports as they whizzed past the age of 40. As I watched my friends disappear from the competitive sports scenery, I was personally tempted to call it a day too. Yet, I kept convincing myself that I should keep going for a couple more years.

A few weekends ago, I was hit badly in a game. With different parts of my body injured, I still managed to keep going for a bit till I felt extreme pain in my back. I stopped and rushed back home. I lay on my bed for an hour and as I tried to get up, I was completely immobile. For the next two days, I was stuck in my bed, not able to move.

The reflection story

Initially, I was highly disappointed and upset about not being able to move but as reality hit, I realised God had given me a gift of solitude and a chance to reflect on the frantic year that whizzed by. Years ago, I learnt the importance of how reflection “renews” your life. Without solitude and reflection, it is impossible to know yourself, your purpose and more importantly, which areas of your life require “renewal.”

Buddha claims that, “all that we are is the result of what we have thought.”

The practice of reflection goes back centuries and is rooted in numerous institutions including the Japanese samurai, of which I talked about in one my previous articles, 4 Leadership Lessons From The Samurai. Ben Franklin, one of my leadership heroes, had a rather systematic approach to daily reflection, which was a fundamental part of his life. He developed a list of 13 virtues and each day he evaluated himself relative to these virtues. This reflection practice enabled him to become a “renaissance” man who was a scientist, innovator, artist, writer and a great leader.

A sincere examination of ourselves is never easy. It involves the willingness to face and acknowledge our mistakes, failure and shortcomings. I recommend at least yearly, taking ourselves out of our “rat race” life and spending time in personal reflection, solitude and in questioning ourselves.

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, one of the key steps in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) 12-step programme asks participants to make a probing and courageous moral inventory. Without reflection, the AA programme may not show much success.

Even successful business leaders start their journey in solitude and reflection. Steve Jobs went to India to reflect prior to starting Apple. Every time I consider a new challenge, I force myself to go through a “thinking” and reflection process. This helps set up the new assignment well. In a few cases where I had to rush into the new assignment without “thinking” time, it turned out to be disastrous.

So, the first part of this article focuses on looking back and is termed “reflection”. The second part is on looking forward, and I term it as “renewal.”

The renewal process

A few days ago, a colleague at Leaderonomics shared an article on how an eagle renews its strength and is “reborn” after going through a renewal process. Eagles shed their old, worn-out feathers and this is replaced by new ones.

This process is called “molt” where these birds have to literally shed old feathers and wait till the new, better feathers grow. Snakes and lizards likewise shed their skin to be “renewed.”

In fact, all animals shed their skin — even you! For most of us, this is a continuous process which we rarely notice. Scientists term this process “ecdysis.” Why do the snakes shed their skin? Snakes shed their skin to allow for further growth and to remove parasites that may have attached to their old skins.

As humans, one of the most fascinating things about us is our power to change, not just the outside but also the inside. We can change our beliefs, fears, perceptions and even our habits. But, this renewal can only begin when we are clear of what we desire to be changed.

This happens at the reflection phase when we have clarity on who we are and who we want to become. Also, like the snake, as we go through life, we have “parasitic” beliefs, dogma and attitudes that wear us down. We start decaying instead of growing. Renewal is required to move from decay to growth.

I was never afraid of bodily injury and cuts, as my previous coach explained that injury to our body may not necessarily be bad. When old blood flows out of the body, new fresh blood soon replaces the lost blood. Likewise, muscles get stronger when lightly injured and repaired. Similarly, renewal is a painful process where the old must be destroyed and removed and replaced with the new.

Learning from Andrea

Many years ago, former chief executive officer (CEO) of Avon, Andrea Jung, discussed how to proactively “reinvent herself” yearly. Part of the process was to take a weekend to reflect in solitude. The other part was to “fire” herself before being “fired” by her board. Here is what she outlines as her renewal process:

“Fire yourself on a Friday night and come in on Monday morning as if a search firm put you there as a turn-around leader. Can you be objective and make the bold change? If you can’t, then you haven’t reinvented yourself. If you can, then you can have a decade of tenure that is like having different jobs. I’m not the same leader I was even last year, because those skills have rendered themselves not as useful. I’ve had to reinvent myself every year.”

This might interest you: Rejuvenating Avon

Like the eagle, Andrea found her “renewal” process through firing herself yearly. While reflection is a starting point, it cannot be the end of the process. This is what happens to many organisations that consistently look back to their past glories and then stagnate as they have no renewal process post reflection.

Rejuvenation, renewal and reinvention in organisations begins when pride is discarded together with all assumptions that constrict growth. Some of these assumptions and constraints were discussed in my Star Wars article two weeks ago, Star Wars: The 4 Galactic Constraints Of The Empire.

Processes, organisational structures, culture, leadership and even your business model needs to be constantly evaluated. After review, there may be a need to destroy these outdated processes, culture or even to reinvent your business model. Companies that consistently destroy themselves to renew themselves enjoy longevity.

What’s your organisational renewal process?

One of the key challenges facing organisations is the fact that smaller, more nimble and agile competitors pop up and destroy long established business models and firmly held business dogma. Uber has changed transportation services and Airbnb has changed its industry.

Why do organisations who have deep expertise and experience in their industry get turned over by these smaller start-ups?

The reason becomes apparent when we look deep into these organisations. Most were once start-ups but they grew comfortable. They didn’t have a process for deep reflection and renewal (many believed they were the “market leader” and the rest of the industry “copied” them). This belief led them to complacency.

Renewal and rejuvenation were the last thing on their minds. Only when crisis hit did they begin asking questions, and forcing through a renewal process. Most times, it is too late into the game thus relegating them into the annals of history.

Eastman Kodak is a classic example of a giant losing its way due to its lack of an internal reflection and renewal process. If your organisation is not consistently reflecting, and making constant changes to its processes and structures, business models, culture and its leadership DNA, they could soon join Kodak.

What does this mean for me?

It is critical for organisations, even while at the top to reflect and renew themselves. But this same process is applicable to all of us as individuals.

Related post: Infographic: Top 10 Ways To Reflect And Renew Yourself

So, here are my Top 10 ways to reflect and renew yourself.

1. Take daily reflection breaks

It is very hard to find time to reflect consistently so I suggest you start by adding reflection to your calendar.

Schedule in “reflection breaks” or time to pause from the “rat-race” of life to listen to your heart and to God.

2. Ask yourself questions

Questions change the world, not answers. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself when you take your reflective breaks:

  • Am I clear about who I am and what my life’s purpose is?
  • Why am I here at this moment? Is what I do aligned with my bigger vision?
  • Where am I going? What is my big dream for myself?
  • How will I get there? Is doing what I am currently doing going to enable me to get there?
  • When I get there, how will I know?
  • What’s stopping me from moving forward? What are the obstacles I may need to overcome?
  • What is not working for me today?
  • What must I change about myself to enable me to get to where I want to?

3. Be willing to change

We usually end up doing the same things and retaining status quo. Convince yourself that you are not perfect and that you are a work in progress. I have met many who act as if everything they utter is the absolute truth. They are fixated that they are perfect and everyone else is wrong.

They believe others need to change, not them. Many of us act likewise. For example, when an organisational change is announced, instead of rejoicing, most of us lament change. Even in our personal lives, we are similarly change-adversed. Be the opposite. When you reflect and notice any negative traits, work to resolve or change them.

4. Clear your clutter

As you reflect, you may realise that there are some things that should be removed from your life. Eradicate those physical things that constrict you from the “renewed” you. For example, if you have decided not to smoke, remove all triggers that may remind you of your past.

As a game, you may want to play a “Daily Clutter Challenge.” Every day, pick a number between one to 10 and write the number down. Each day, remove as many things that clutter your life as the number you picked. If you picked five, make sure you eliminate five things that are cluttering your life.

5. Remove negative people

You may also realise that there are negative people in your life that weigh you down. Be brave enough to let go of these people. This is hard to do, but be courageous. You want to reinvent and renew yourself. Don’t allow negative people to trigger you back into your old state or to use up your limited willpower.

6. Tell everyone

When you decide that you are going to “renew” and “reinvent” yourself, don’t be afraid to announce it to the world.

Not because you love to boast. The reason you want to make a public statement is for accountability purposes. The moment you make a public statement, you will be held accountable to achieve it by your friends who heard your original assertion.

7. Tweak your environment

Making changes to your surroundings will make a difference in rejuvenation. I shared a story of how we wanted to drive employees to be more present and productive in the office. We tweaked our office environment and immediately saw results. Likewise, you need to tweak your environment to reinforce and drive the change you are championing in your life. For further information, read one of my previous articles, Tweak The Environment.

8. Make one change at a time

Big problems are rarely solved with complex solutions. Often, they are solved by a sequence of small solutions.
Start your renewal by not trying to change everything that is wrong and needs fixing. Work on one area at a time.

This may be frustrating at first as there are numerous areas to fix and it seems like it would take forever. Yet, you will have longer staying power by trying to ‘reinvent’ one part at a time.

9. Collect experiences

It is amazing how closed and sheltered many of us are. Many have never experienced the complexity and diversity of life at its fullest. When you do throw yourself to accumulate experiences, you will suddenly learn how little you know about the world and about yourself.

The more you challenge yourself to accrue diverse experiences, the easier it is to change and to consistently reinvent yourself. You will also learn faster and become a far more rounded leader.

Signing up for a new class or taking on a project in your office that you have no idea how to deal with would be a simple place to start if you are devoid of ideas. Each new experience will open your eyes up to amazing possibilities. Keep diving into unfamiliar experiences.

10. Be willing to destroy

The hardest part of renewal is to destroy some of the things that helped get you to where you are. You may be highly dependent on a skill or a way of managing people that helped you get to your current position.

However, you may have to unlearn that skill and learn a completely different way for the next phase of your life. Rebirth happens with destruction. And it is hard to truly renew if we are still clinging to the past.

Listen to its corresponding podcast here.

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Reflect and Renew

Although reflection and renewal is a tough and painful process, a huge part of Leaderonomics today has been built on undergoing this process continuously. To inquire about how your organisations can build reflection and renewal as a core process, email us at people@leaderonomics.com


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Roshan is the Founder and “Kuli” of the Leaderonomics Group of companies. He believes that everyone can be a leader and "make a dent in the universe," in their own special ways. He is featured on TV, radio and numerous publications sharing the Science of Building Leaders and on leadership development. Follow him at www.roshanthiran.com


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