Leadership Distinction #7: Reflection

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Take a time-out from the action. Reflect on where you are. And do it with your entire team!

From the realm of ancient philosophy, Plato’s mandate for leaders was to “know thyself”. Psychology, a newer discipline, has an exhortation of its own for leaders, and it is to “step back from your self”. The idea here is to see your self as object, as much as the subject who is doing the seeing. You might say: you need to see yourself seeing.

Robert Kegan and LLL in their Immunity to Change have been observing for over a generation how it is we struggle so mightily, and often so fruitlessly, to change our selves and our organizations. The aim for what they have come up with is for us to develop minds of sufficient complexity to match the escalating complexity that surrounds us.

Much of the time, we operate in the world in a kind of autopilot mode. Then something unexpected happens and it literally wakes us up. In the words of Eminem, we snap back to reality. Escalating complexity and the quickening pace of change are making these abrupt and unwanted interruptions all too common, and all too commonly disruptive. How to get a grip?

A moment of Reflection connotes a pause to consider what has happened. But it’s no longer old friend Plato’s brand of unhurried Reflection – which we might have reserved for weekends by the pool or vacations in the mountains. A leader must now be a dynamic reflector, toggling nimbly each day between coordinating action and calling time-outs with the team. 

And not only is a heightened personal capacity for Reflection a modern day imperative for leaders but so is the ability to inspire followers to also assess what is happening and to assist in ‘drawing up the next play’.

Equal to the recently unquantifiable speed of social change is our deep and persistent resistance to it – our well-developed immunity to its threats. Achieving the results you intend demands that you step back from your ardent pursuits and observe just how it is that you are operating in the daily fray. 

If you can function with a complex mind, and learn from reflecting on your own thinking and acting, you may also be able to generate the reflective capacity of those you lead. Were he with us in the here and now, Plato might prompt you to “complexify thyself”.

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