There is one tool that I find particularly valuable in most aspects of personal (and hence, leadership) development and that is journaling. This page tries to pull together resources on journaling that I hope will make it accessible to you and that will stimulate your own journal.
What is ‘reflective practice’ and why is it important?
Studies of exceptional performers – people we would instantly recognise as highly successful – show that they took a remarkably consistent time to become acknowledged as such. They did not achieve this celebrity instantly. Even people who might have once been described as ‘precocious’ or having ‘natural talent’ could be seen to have taken a similar length of time.
There is no evidence that talent is inherited. While there are families, all of whom seem to have excelled in a particular field (the Strauss family might be an example), we can usually see a powerful influence from a member of the previous generation in the upbringing of the group of children.
You could think that this is down to practice. Without doubt, practice improves our performance. However, there are so many people who have been practising something for decades and have still not really succeeded.
What distinguishes the successful from the less successful is that they practice in a very specific kind of way. Different authors describe this is different ways, for example ‘deliberate practice’, but the term that I prefer is ‘reflective practice’.
The idea of reflection implies more than just an activity – it is about an attitude of mind – an open-mindedness, preparedness to make mistakes without becoming angry or despondent, acceptance that you don’t know everything, and an experimental approach, trying new things, dropping unsuccessful ones, and incorporating successful ones.
It is this mindset that allows the truly successful to emerge and that is why ‘reflective practice’ is so important.
The role of ‘reflective practice’ in leadership success
Have you ever noticed how quickly politicians can produce their memoirs when they leave office? They can do so because many politicians have grown up with the idea of making contemporaneous notes about their day-to-day work. Keeping contemporaneous records is an idea that probably emanated from the legal profession, but it provides the core for success in management and leadership too.
Experiments have shown that managers who reflect on their day’s activities (generally through writing) achieve over 20% increase in performance. Writing about your work not only improves your recall of events and develops your memory in general, it improves performance, enhances mental health by reducing stress and anxiety, and increases employability. As the success of leaders is largely due to the sets of attitudes that they have developed, reflective practice has a key role as it is shown to shape our personalities. These aren’t wild claims – they are established by experiment and analysis.
Leaders are resilient to failure. They have well developed ways of coping when things go wrong. Reflective practice obviously plays a part in this process of adaptation. Some leaders means of defending themselves is a form of denial. They will pass the buck of failure onto others and not accept their own role in it. This process is unconscious. Others may see it, but the leader doesn’t. The reflective process gets in the way of this. Whether done individually, or with the help of a confidant – a coach, close colleague, or even a competitor – reflection raises the unconscious to the conscious.
Journaling as one approach to reflective practice
There are other forms of reflective practice – mindful meditation itself can be used this way, audio recordings are used by some people, art and graphics can be valuable. In the past, I have used mind-mapping and know a few people who swear by this approach. Originally, blogging was expected by many to develop into a form of public journaling, but it soon became a far wider means of publishing. While some people suggest that Facebook has the potential to take on this role, most posts there lack the analysis and personal insight that you’d expect of a journal.
Most of the people that I have worked with, have found that nothing can compare to a simple notebook and a pen or pencil. Some type into a tool like Evernote. Personally, I keep my journal in Evernote, but usually write it longhand aand then transcribe it a few days later.
The 30 day ‘free’ trial
I’d like to invite you to a challenge. Most habits take a while to become established. My old tennis coach used to say that it took one hundred perfect serves to have established the habit. So my challenge is for you to try journaling for 30 days. There’s no cost! It’s free! Which may not be sufficient an incentive.
While this may also not be much of an additional incentive, I’d like to make you an offer. If you succeed in keeping a journal for 30 days with, let’s say 20 entries in it (as I am realistic and know that many people struggle to do this EVERY day), then I will give you a 30 minute telephone coaching session afterwards. You may use it to review the journal, your insights from it, or any other aspect of your personal development that you would like to explore. Just email me when you’re ready and we’ll fix a time.
Kaizen Journaling website – A very rich source of inspiration for journal-ists.
Colvin G (2008) Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else. Nicholas Beazley, London.
If you’re interested in the evidence base surrounding journaling, do please join my Zotero Group – https://www.zotero.org/groups/reflective_practice_esp_journaling.
Stefano, GD et al (2014) Learning by Thinking: How Reflection Aids Performance. Harvard Business School Technology & Operations Mgt. Unit Working Paper No. 14-093 (http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2414478)
Suzanne Quinney, Leo Richardson, (2014) “Organisational development, appreciative inquiry and the development of Psychologically Informed Environments (PIEs). Part I: a positive psychology approach“, Housing, Care and Support, Vol. 17 Iss: 2, pp.95 – 102
Suzanne Marie Quinney, Leo James Stanley Richardson, (2014) “Organisational Development, Appreciative Inquiry and the development of Psychologically Informed Environments (PIEs): Part Two – the pilot study and evaluation“, Housing, Care and Support, Vol. 17 Iss: 3