Instead of Resolutions—Try Reflection

Tis’ the season for resolutions.  Well, not quite.  It’s a tad too early for most of us.  The truth of the matter is, in a manner similar to our last minute Christmas scurry, we often feel compelled to cobble together a quick list of New Year’s Resolutions.  Call it resolution peer pressure, the bandwagon of good intentions or the guilt of things left undone.  We “rush to resolution” sometime between December 30th and January 2nd.

And then what happens?  Another wasted gym membership.  Another unused cookbook, the latest one championing the wonders of a diet passed on by our pre-historic ancestors.  (Where are those cave paintings with the recipes?)

What if, instead of resolutions, we focused on reflection?

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m all for implementation and execution.  Need a plan?  I’m your man.  My “strategy” score on the Strengths Finder inventory is off the charts.   Tired of co-workers over-studying stale concepts and recycling old ideas to the point of organizational exhaustion?  Me too!  We want results!  We’re ready to take action!

But take heed, leaders who are “doers” can become so focused on getting things done that they lose sight of the fact that doing work and doing the right work are two very different things. 

So, as the new year begins, don’t scurry about looking for an envelope to scribble down a set of resolutions or call one last year-end meeting to discuss fourth quarter results.  Instead, go away.  Set aside time for personal reflection—that’s right, a day off.  Better yet, set aside some professional time for reflection—time to consider the quality of your work and your role in shaping what lies ahead.  And, despite the “work ethic” voice screaming in your ear right now, this is not wasted time.  Approached properly, time spent in reflection may become some of the best time you spend all year.

Not convinced?  Wondering what to do?

Here are several personal and professional reflection suggestions:

Get Away & Quiet Yourself

Be honest, how much time do you regularly spend in reflection?  Is it a discipline you have developed to start or end each day?  That is a rarity.  Seldom are there times when you find quiet, when you find yourself alone, when you find the time (scratch that), take the time, to be away by yourself.  You must choose to be away and become quiet.

Begin with Yourself—Look Inside

Once you are away, begin by looking within.  Be honest with yourself, if your life is not in order, you are limiting your value to yourself and to those you are called to serve at home or at the office?  Do not take the discipline of self-reflection lightly.  It can be the point of origin for new beginnings, true resolution, or needed renewal.  It requires internal candor and dispassionate reflection to understand where you are and what you need to be and do.  Having trouble getting a sense of all this?  Write it down.  Journal your thoughts. Don’t edit, capture what emerges, and then reread for greater understanding.  Beyond that, reflect upon the quality of your self-care—physical, emotional and spiritual.  How well do you care for yourself?  Leaders must remember, if you do not care for yourself, no one else will. 

Begin with Yourself—Look Outside

Once you have looked within, look outward.  Consider your family and friends.  What is the quality of your relationships; do you tend them, invest in them, value them? Do you need to set something right, spend more time with someone, express your care and concern?  Only after you have conducted a relational inventory will it be appropriate to turn your attention to the “things” in your life.  Yes, I know, that is where doers want to go first.  But our selves and our relationships must take precedence over our commitment to things.  Hollow is the life filled with things but absent of people.

Reflect upon Your Work—Look Back

As you conclude your season of personal reflection it is time to change your focus; consider your leadership and its affect across the year just ending.  Try and refrain from creating a checklist of accomplishments.  Instead, consider the broader brush strokes of corporate culture, your employees’ level of engagement and their sense of common mission and purpose.  What worked to bring people together?  Where results were best, what motivated those involved?  Where results lagged or performance was poor, what contributed to the lack of achievement?  As you reflect, focus less on what happened and more on why it happened. 

Reflect upon Your Work—Look Around

Just as in your time of personal reflection, reflect upon your professional relationships.  Scan the horizon of those with whom you work closely.  What is the quality of each relationship, the level of trust, the willingness to tell one another the truth, the capacity to support one another and hold one another accountable?  And what of those for whom you are responsible, but with whom you have little day-to-day interaction?  What signals and symbols of affirmation and care do you send?  What actions and attitudes on your part positively affect your employees’ sense of purpose and fulfillment?

Reflect upon Your Work—Look Forward

Having looked within, looked back and looked around, it is time to look forward.  Certainly production quotas, project launches and strategic initiatives deserve our attention.  Yet leaders are not on the front lines.  Nonetheless your team’s behavior, priorities and practices can positively promote the culture and performance you aspire to create and need to succeed?   What if reflection about such matters became the norm?  To only be a doer was frowned upon. 

Reservoir of Reflection

Reflective forward thinking is essential to effective leadership.  Making time for reasoned reflection creates a reservoir of ideas, strategies and resolution that cannot be tapped in the din of activity.  You must retreat to reflect—whether it’s behind a closed door, in a cubbyhole, a day by the lake, or time in your home study, regularly getting away and allowing time for themes to emerge and observations to coalesce is essential.  Without reflection leaders are prone to manage the present, rather than lead into the future. 

This year, instead of resolutions—try reflection!

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