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Reflecting on Reflecting

The work of leadership requires critical thinking.

More responsibility means more problems to solve. Leaders tackle issues with what is widely known as critical thinking, that ever-necessary part of leadership work involving problem solving and analysis. It might include setting budgets, allocating resources, managing people matters or considering consequences and alternatives. Critical thinking is no joke and it is an important part of a leader’s work. However, let’s take a minute to consider the equally important role of reflective thinking.

How much of your mental energy is spent on critical thinking?

Critical thinking is a very necessary skill for leaders. However, as the old saying goes, “too much of a good thing is a bad thing.” Many leaders spend so much energy solving problems, they may have forgotten to notice the subtle drift of their being. When a leader hyper-focuses on the present problem, it can lead to losing sight of their own life and leadership trajectory. Although they’re solving problems, these leaders may not be giving thought to who they are becoming in the process.

Leaders anchored in exclusively critical thinking may slowly be drifting “off course” from the kind of leader they really want to be.

One of the unique things about human beings is an innate ability to notice. Think about this from a dog’s perspective. I’m no animal psychologist, but I’m pretty sure my dog lacks the ability to notice what is going on in his life. I would guess most of his time is spent in critical thinking (i.e. finding food, chewing his owner’s shoes, catching a ball.) I’m relatively certain he lacks the ability to step outside of himself and consider where his life is heading.

Nevertheless, human beings do possess this unique skill of noticing. If given the right amount of time and space, human beings can step outside of themselves and consider the trajectory of their life. The key words here are time and space. Critical thinking happens at a fast pace in “real time.” The demands of the present require a leader’s mental energy. On the other hand, reflective thinking requires space and time. Amid the daily grind, it is not possible to experience the full benefits of quiet, thoughtful reflection. Yet, a leader must find a space and make the time to pull this off effectively. Reflective thinking might be one of the most underrated abilities of human beings. It is likely most leaders you know are not employing this skill.

Let us test this idea.

Take a moment and consider what you are thinking right now. Write down three thoughts you are having. What are you feeling right now? Write down a few words that describe what you are currently feeling. Were you able to do this? What was that like for you?

How might it benefit you to recognize what you are feeling…and why…in a given situation? It’s likely your feelings are guiding your decisions. And it is wise to consider the navigating affect of your feelings. Are they leading you closer to (or further from) who you want to be as a leader?

There are numerous ways to apply the skill of reflective thinking. Consider some of the following:

  • Learn to journal. By carving out 15-30 minutes a day in a quiet space, you might be surprised by the cathartic experience of journaling. The act of journaling allows you to privately record what you are really thinking and feeling. There’s an affirming affect that occurs when we journal. It’s as if our feelings or thoughts are validated through the process of writing them out. Ask yourself what happened in your day. What did you notice about yourself (thoughts/feelings)? What can you apply to your life?
  • Make some space. Set aside time every day to turn off your critical brain, and you might be surprised by the drift you have experienced. Allowing yourself some intentional space will enable you to reorient the current course your life is taking.
  • Develop a structure. Consider using your lunch hour or wake up 30 minutes early. It takes effort! Still, you might be surprised to discover room for more productivity when you spend 15 to 30 minutes in reflective thinking.
  • Take your reflective thinking to a whole new level by participating with us! Our Milestone Leadership team offers a three-day virtual Leadership Intensive specifically designed to do what I’ve just described. This immersive experience utilizes critical thinking and provokes thoughts and feelings participants are encouraged to journal and reflect upon. Katie, a recent participant of our Leadership Intensive, said this, “It was a great investment of time that will pay dividends as I continue my leadership journey.”

I invite you to learn more about our upcoming September Milestone Leadership Intensive by clicking HERE.

Regardless of the path you choose to become a more reflective thinker, know that we here at Milestone Leadership are cheering for you!


Written by: Erik Dees, Partner, Milestone Leadership

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