By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.
What’s the most important aspect of a successful leadership development program?
Education? Training? Reading? Case Studies? Role Models? Experience? Experimentation? Exercises? Games? Challenges? Mentorship? Feedback?
These are all important components of leader development, but I’d like to highlight an aspect I feel is often overlooked and undervalued: Reflection. I think it’s left out because course designers either fail to understand its power or don’t know how to encourage it—or both.
1. First, its power. Reflection is the catalyst that jump starts self-directed, personalized (i.e. meaningful) leadership development. High-potential leaders could get a lot out of each component I mentioned above—but it’s not guaranteed they will. Adding reflection into the mix increases your chances of participants experiencing the “aha” moment you’re hoping for.
Helping high potentials reflect on what they’re going through can mean the difference between life-changing realizations and just “going through the motions”.
2. Sounds good, but how do you induce reflection? It’s not as easy as creating a reading list, teaching a class, or facilitating an exercise. You can’t force someone to reflect in a meaningful way. You can, however, set the conditions for meaningful reflection to occur. Here are a few ideas:
- Journal. Encourage this by 1. giving them a journal, 2. setting aside time for them to journal, & 3. giving them a venue to share what they’re learning
- Model. Ask authentic questions and expect the same from participants
- Discuss. Build in group discussion time after leadership development events
- Serve. Incorporate volunteer work into your program; it helps you contemplate purpose beyond personal profit
- Present. Have participants brief the group (or their team) on what they’re learning
- Share. Urge participants to blog or use twitter to share what they’re learning
- Commit. Schedule time for reflection—then guard it with your life!
Whether you’re in charge of developing other leaders or just in charge of developing yourself, this truth still stands: Education and experience are important, but if you aren’t injecting your program with adequate doses of reflection it will never become self-sustaining, let alone create explosive results.
Is reflection really that important? How do you incorporate it into your development?