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Why You Should Make Time for Self-Reflection (Even If You Hate Doing It)

When people find out I’m an executive coach, they often ask who my toughest clients are. Inexperienced leaders? Senior leaders who think they know everything? Leaders who bully and belittle others? Leaders who shirk responsibility?

The answer is none of the above. The hardest leaders to coach are those who won’t reflect — particularly leaders who won’t reflect on themselves.

At its simplest, reflection is about careful thought. But the kind of reflection that is really valuable to leaders is more nuanced than that. The most useful reflection involves the conscious consideration and analysis of beliefs and actions for the purpose of learning. Reflection gives the brain an opportunity to pause amidst the chaos, untangle and sort through observations and experiences, consider multiple possible interpretations, and create meaning. This meaning becomes learning, which can then inform future mindsets and actions. For leaders, this “meaning making” is crucial to their ongoing growth and development.

Research by Giada Di Stefano, Francesca Gino, Gary Pisano, and Bradley Staats in call centers demonstrated that employees who spent 15 minutes at the end of the day reflecting about lessons learned performed 23% better after 10 days than those who did not reflect. A study of UK commuters found a similar result when those who were prompted to use their commute to think about and plan for their day were happier, more productive, and less burned out than people who didn’t.

So, if reflection is so helpful, why don’t many leaders do it?  Leaders often:

  • Don’t understand the process.  Many leaders don’t know how to reflect. One executive I work with, Ken, shared recently that he had yet again not met his commitment to spend an hour on Sunday mornings reflecting. To help him get over this barrier, I suggested he take the next 30 minutes of our two-hour session and just quietly reflect and then we’d debrief it. After five minutes of silence, he said, “I guess I don’t really know what you want me to do. Maybe that’s why I haven’t been doing it.”
  • Don’t like the process. Reflection requires leaders to do a number of things they typically don’t like to do: slow down, adopt a mindset of not knowing and curiosity, tolerate messiness and inefficiency, and take personal responsibility. The process can lead to valuable insights and even breakthroughs — and it can also lead to feelings of discomfort, vulnerability, defensiveness, and irritation.
  • Don’t like the results. When a leader takes time to reflect, she typically sees ways she was effective as well as things she could have done better. Most leaders quickly dismiss the noted strengths and dislike the noted weaknesses. Some become so defensive in the process that they don’t learn anything, so the results are not helpful.
  • Have a bias towards action. Like soccer goalies, many leaders have a bias toward action. A study of professional soccer goalies defending penalty kicks found that goalies who stay in the center of the goal, instead of lunging left or right, have a 33% chance of stopping the goal, and yet these goalies only stay in the center 6% of the time. The goalies just feel better when they “do something.”  The same is true of many leaders. Reflection can feel like staying in the center of the goal and missing the action.
  • Can’t see a good ROI.  From early roles, leaders are taught to invest where they can generate a positive ROI — results that indicate the contribution of time, talent or money paid off.  Sometimes it’s hard to see an immediate ROI on reflection — particularly when compared with other uses of a leader’s time.

If you have found yourself making these same excuses, you can become more reflective by practicing a few simple steps.

Identify some important questions. But don’t answer them yet. Here are some possibilities:

  • What are you avoiding?
  • How are you helping your colleagues achieve their goals?
  • How are you not helping or even hindering their progress?
  • How might you be contributing to your least enjoyable relationship at work?
  • How could you have been more effective in a recent meeting?

Select a reflection process that matches your preferences.  Many people reflect through writing in a journal.  If that sounds terrible but talking with a colleague sounds better, consider that.  As long as you’re reflecting and not just chatting about the latest sporting event or complaining about a colleague, your approach is up to you.  You can sit, walk, bike, or stand, alone or with a partner, writing, talking, or thinking

Schedule time.  Most leaders are driven by their calendars. So, schedule your reflection time and then commit to keep it. And if you find yourself trying to skip it or avoid it, reflect on that!

Start small.  If an hour of reflection seems like too much, try 10 minutes.  Teresa Amabile and her colleagues found that the most significant driver of positive emotions and motivation at work was making progress on the tasks at hand. Set yourself up to make progress, even if it feels small.

Do it. Go back to your list of questions and explore them. Be still. Think. Consider multiple perspectives. Look at the opposite of what you initially believe. Brainstorm. You don’t have to like or agree with all of your thoughts — just think and to examine your thinking.

Ask for help. For most leaders, a lack of desire, time, experience, or skill can get in the way of reflection.  Consider working with a colleague, therapist, or coach to help you make the time, listen carefully, be a thought partner, and hold you accountable.

Despite the challenges to reflection, the impact is clear. As Peter Drucker said: “Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection, will come even more effective action.”

Jennifer Porter is the Managing Partner of The Boda Group, a leadership and team development firm. She is a graduate of Bates College and the Stanford Graduate School of Business, an experienced operations executive, and an executive and team coach.

 

HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW: https://hbr.org/2017/03/why-you-should-make-time-for-self-reflection-even-if-you-hate-doing-it?utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter_daily&utm_campaign=mtod&referral=00203&spMailingID=17636722&spUserID=OTA1Njk1ODMwMAS2&spJobID=1060809136&spReportId=MTA2MDgwOTEzNgS2

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Emotional Intelligence Has 12 Elements. Which Do You Need to Work On?

Esther is a well-liked manager of a small team. Kind and respectful, she is sensitive to the needs of others. She is a problem solver; she tends to see setbacks as opportunities. She’s always engaged and is a source of calm to her colleagues. Her manager feels lucky to have such an easy direct report to work with and often compliments Esther on her high levels of emotional intelligence, or EI. And Esther indeed counts EI as one of her strengths; she’s grateful for at least one thing she doesn’t have to work on as part of her leadership development. It’s strange, though — even with her positive outlook, Esther is starting to feel stuck in her career. She just hasn’t been able to demonstrate the kind of performance her company is looking for. So much for emotional intelligence, she’s starting to think.

The trap that has ensnared Esther and her manager is a common one: They are defining emotional intelligence much too narrowly. Because they’re focusing only on Esther’s sociability, sensitivity, and likability, they’re missing critical elements of emotional intelligence that could make her a stronger, more effective leader. A recent HBR article highlights the skills that a kind, positive manager like Esther might lack: the ability to deliver difficult feedback to employees, the courage to ruffle feathers and drive change, the creativity to think outside the box. But these gaps aren’t a result of Esther’s emotional intelligence; they’re simply evidence that her EI skills are uneven. In the model of EI and leadership excellence that we have developed over 30 years of studying the strengths of outstanding leaders, we’ve found that having a well-balanced array of specific EI capabilities actually prepares a leader for exactly these kinds of tough challenges.

There are many models of emotional intelligence, each with its own set of abilities; they are often lumped together as “EQ” in the popular vernacular. We prefer “EI,” which we define as comprising four domains: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. Nested within each domain are twelve EI competencies, learned and learnable capabilities that allow outstanding performance at work or as a leader (see the image below). These include areas in which Esther is clearly strong: empathy, positive outlook, and self-control. But they also include crucial abilities such as achievement, influence, conflict management, teamwork and inspirational leadership. These skills require just as much engagement with emotions as the first set, and should be just as much a part of any aspiring leader’s development priorities.

For example, if Esther had strength in conflict management, she would be skilled in giving people unpleasant feedback. And if she were more inclined to influence, she would want to provide that difficult feedback as a way to lead her direct reports and help them grow. Say, for example, that Esther has a peer who is overbearing and abrasive. Rather than smoothing over every interaction, with a broader balance of EI skills she could bring up the issue to her colleague directly, drawing on emotional self-control to keep her own reactivity at bay while telling him what, specifically, does not work in his style. Bringing simmering issues to the surface goes to the core of conflict management. Esther could also draw on influence strategy to explain to her colleague that she wants to see him succeed, and that if he monitored how his style impacted those around him he would understand how a change would help everyone.

Similarly, if Esther had developed her inspirational leadership competence, she would be more successful at driving change. A leader with this strength can articulate a vision or mission that resonates emotionally with both themselves and those they lead, which is a key ingredient in marshaling the motivation essential for going in a new direction. Indeed, several studies have found a strong association between EI, driving change, and visionary leadership.

 In order to excel, leaders need to develop a balance of strengths across the suite of EI competencies. When they do that, excellent business results follow.

How can you tell where your EI needs improvement — especially if you feel that it’s strong in some areas?

Simply reviewing the 12 competencies in your mind can give you a sense of where you might need some development. There are a number of formal models of EI, and many of them come with their own assessment tools. When choosing a tool to use, consider how well it predicts leadership outcomes. Some assess how you see yourself; these correlate highly with personality tests, which also tap into a person’s “self-schema.” Others, like that of Yale University president Peter Salovey and his colleagues, define EI as an ability; their test, the MSCEIT(a commercially available product), correlates more highly with IQ than any other EI test.

We recommend comprehensive 360-degree assessments, which collect both self-ratings and the views of others who know you well. This external feedback is particularly helpful for evaluating all areas of EI, including self-awareness (how would you know that you are not self-aware?). You can get a rough gauge of where your strengths and weaknesses lie by asking those who work with you to give you feedback. The more people you ask, the better a picture you get.

Formal 360-degree assessments, which incorporate systematic, anonymous observations of your behavior by people who work with you, have been found to not correlate well with IQ or personality, but they are the best predictors of a leader’s effectiveness, actual business performance, engagement, and job (and life) satisfaction. Into this category fall our own model and the Emotional and Social Competency Inventory, or ESCI 360, a commercially available assessment we developed with Korn Ferry Hay Group to gauge the 12 EI competencies, which rely on how others rate observable behaviors in evaluating a leader. The larger the gap between a leader’s self-ratings and how others see them, research finds, the fewer EI strengths the leader actually shows, and the poorer the business results.

These assessments are critical to a full evaluation of your EI, but even understanding that these 12 competencies are all a part of your emotional intelligence is an important first step in addressing areas where your EI is at its weakest. Coaching is the most effective method for improving in areas of EI deficit. Having expert support during your ups and downs as you practice operating in a new way is invaluable.

Even people with many apparent leadership strengths can stand to better understand those areas of EI where we have room to grow. Don’t shortchange your development as a leader by assuming that EI is all about being sweet and chipper, or that your EI is perfect if you are — or, even worse, assume that EI can’t help you excel in your career.

Daniel Goleman is Co-Director of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations at Rutgers University, co-author of Primal Leadership: Leading with Emotional Intelligence, and author of The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights and Leadership: Selected Writings. His latest book is A Force For Good: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World.

Richard E. Boyatzis is a Professor in the Departments of Organizational Behavior, Psychology, and Cognitive Science at the Weatherhead School of Management and Distinguished University Professor at Case Western Reserve University.

 

HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW: https://hbr.org/2017/02/emotional-intelligence-has-12-elements-which-do-you-need-to-work-on?referral=00203&utm_source=newsletter_management_tip&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=tip_date&spMailingID=17345204&spUserID=OTA1Njk1ODMwMAS2&spJobID=1022571931&spReportId=MTAyMjU3MTkzMQS2

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