Reflect Before Leading

July 5, 2022

by Stephen T. Messenger

So often, we leave a leadership position with success but seldom know why. We move onto the next assignment without much thought as to what we personally did right or wrong. We fail to reflect on our own actions.

In preparing to take an Army command position this summer, I deliberately carved out time over 30 days to reflect on my individual leadership. I’ve done this before in various military courses, but it was the first time I independently explored so many different facets of leading across a wide range of skills.

This reflection has positioned me to take the unit colors being more aware of how I lead others—the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Knowing Thyself

Using the book My Green Notebook: “Knowing Thyself” Before Changing Jobs, I examined my strengths and weaknesses over the last few assignments. These included many areas I was strong at and just as many areas in which I had opportunity to improve.

I recommend it. It’s a great exercise, and not for the faint of heart. It’s easy to explore topics such as adaptability, assertiveness, and self-control in a binary manner—either I’m good or bad at this—but instead, each category has so many layers of complexity that one can be both great and terrible at the same time.

This duality makes reflection necessary. Most of us, including myself, do not take enough time to thoroughly do so.

We review systems, exercises, and events to improve for the next time, but not our leadership. We give feedback to those that work for us, but rarely do we ask them on how we can improve. And we schedule meeting after meeting with no white space (time with nothing intentionally scheduled) in between to think about how individual data points in our jobs collectively contribute to the overall goal.

What Must I Do?

The real benefit of this 30-day reflection was in the last few pages—bringing the book’s 29 leadership dimensions together into actionable items:

  • What must I continue doing?
  • What must I stop doing?
  • What must I start doing?

I changed the language of the book slightly from “should” to “must.” For example, in my personal journey, I’ve discovered that I must:

  • Continue to communicate command philosophy and intent early and often
  • Stop letting email interrupt my schedule
  • Start journaling daily and increase white space reflecting

These revelations (along with many others) I’ll take into my next assignment to improve the effects of how I lead. The 15 minutes a day over the past month exploring leadership dimensions helped paint a holistic picture.

But more importantly, it’s helped me understand I must create time to routinely track, think about, and reflect on my actions. It is not enough to spend one, 30-day period between jobs trying to improve. It’s a daily and continuous process over years.

The Importance of White Space

One thing all leaders can do is create white space. A senior leader once told me a story about how he placed a block of time on the calendar every afternoon to think. When asked about it, he would always notice skepticism. Very few people understood, yet this was the most important time of his day—where ideas flowed and decisions were made.

If every day is crammed with activity, your brain will never be able to digest it all. It’s critical to take time and think about all the different pieces of information you digest and make sense of them all. Your job is to bring it together. White space does that.

Reflect Before Leading

Going into command, these 30 days of reflection helped a lot. But the biggest advantage was to spur a culture of daily reflection. I hope you will consider the same.

My Green Notebook: “Knowing Thyself” Before Changing Jobs can be purchased on Amazon.

Subscribe by clicking the link above! Reflecting is all part of the process along with reading, thinking, talking, and writing about leadership. One of the ways is to sign up for a weekly dose of leadership from The Maximum Standard – one free email leadership email every Tuesday morning. No ads, No fees. Just leadership!

The most read article of 2022: It Only Takes ONE

2 thoughts on “Reflect Before Leading

  1. I love this Steve! We are the most distracted society the world has ever known, with a potential for nearly perpetual “entertainment” or “work”. To reflect is to have the courage to look honestly and deeply within ourselves and those relationships that shape us. It is not easy. The crucible of solitude and the discipline of thoughtful focus shapes men and women who will simply find themselves being followed because of how they are transformed by it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jon, so true about the distracted society. Imagine all the time we can leverage for productive behaviors by minimizing our distractions. Imagine the impact we can have on others… Great insight!


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