Tag Archives: leadership development

Gaining Wisdom through Reflection

Confucius

Wisdom.  It is one of the many words that are used to describe leadership.  Yet, it is typically not something that we as leaders have innately.  Wisdom is something that coalesces from a variety of other aspects of a leader’s education.  Wisdom is derived from book knowledge, observation, experience, and reflection.  Wisdom is as not simple as the abridged definition “the quality or state of being knowledgeable with just judgement.”

As leaders, the easy part of gaining wisdom comes from the many hours of learning our technical craft.  We spend hours gaining the technical skills of our chosen professions: going to class, taking training courses, reading the current literature, etc.  We also have honed our skills of observation: watching other leaders, learning individuals, understanding group dynamics, etc.  But, have we become wise?

This is an interesting question.  Stop and take a moment to visualize a wise person.  What images come immediately to mind?  For some, it is a yogi or a guru sitting atop a mountain.  For some, it is an owl.  For others, it may be a specific person, but that person is generally older, and quiet.  We have a vision of what it takes to be wise or full of wisdom.  Yet, there is no manual or recipe or real guidance document. Sure, you can Google the question “how to become wise,” (and you will get 23,800,000 hits) but these are suggestions and starting points.  There is not a single recipe or set of steps that you can follow that will have you waking up tomorrow as a wise person.  Sure, you may be a bit wiser than you were today but it is never a completed project.  (It is probably a topic that can have some intellectuals researching for years.)

This doesn’t mean that we can’t become wise nor develop wisdom.  All it means is that wisdom comes from our willingness and openness to new experiences, new ideas, and listening to different points of view.  Wisdom is derived from our personal situations, our challenges, and the environment or circumstances that have occurred over time.  Even then, a leader may not become wise as there is still something missing.  The missing item is reflection.

One cannot learn from our experiences and environments without taking the time to reflect and ask questions about them.  How do we begin to listen to another point of view?  We ask questions.  We investigate.  We may still disagree, but we are actively learning how someone else approaches the same situation.  We learn to be active listeners.  Yet, do we listen to ourselves. Do we note our own conflicts? Do we ask ourselves questions?

We have to make time for the reflection.  And, we have to have some way of reflecting.  So, how can you as a leader begin to develop this habit of reflection?  Well, there is a technique that is widely used and for some of us it is something that is a bit of struggle – journaling.  Yes, remember that creative journal that your English composition teacher tried to get you to start?  It may be one method of helping you develop wisdom in your life.  Sure, you have heard of creative writers journaling, but the CEO of a Fortune 500 company?  You probably have even read excerpts from some journals from famous individuals in history like George Washington, or Thomas Jefferson.  But what about J.P. Morgan?  Sure you know that they kept “diaries” of appointments or notes – but did they journal?  We may or may not know.

Why start a journal?  The typical reasons for journaling include:

  • Journals help you articulate thoughts and ideas
  • Journals help you clear the mental clutter
  • Journals help you track your own personal growth
  • Journals promote creativity

You can do a quick search and find a host of other reasons.  But from a straight forward and simplistic perspective – journals allow you the time for reflection.  It is this reflection time that is the important aspect of developing wisdom.

How do you start and what should you write?  The first step is to pick a medium – computer, paper and pen, etc.  Personally, I am fond of the paper and pen method as for me, it is more personal. It is engaging. And, I am interacting with my thoughts.  (Now, I do use a smart pen which does allow me to store my journals electronically.)  But, I have used a number of different media over the years – including some of the new apps.  I have also found that I am much happier keeping everything in the same place, i.e. my daily appointments, to-do lists, and journal all in the same book.  It simplifies things for me and if I have an idea I don’t have to figure out which book to put it in.

What to write?  This is the personal part of the journal and may be highly dependent on the time of day when you chose to journal.  There are times that I journal in the morning as I am preparing for the day and my reflections may be about my goals for that day.  Or, if in the evening, they may be about something that I learned, noticed or was troubled by during the day.  I may reflect on a reading throughout the day, which is why I like my journal all in one.  I journal about new words, a line in a book, something I heard on the radio or something that I could have handled better.  It really doesn’t matter what you write, it is about taking the time to sit quietly and reflect.

Confucius said that the noblest way to learn wisdom is by reflection.  Margaret Wheatley reminds us that without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and fail to achieve anything useful.  The journal is a means of providing that bit of reflection that is needed to help us develop into the leaders we need to be.

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Critical Soft Skills

IMG_1081_editedAs leaders, we are always talking about the soft skills.  Saying things like – “the technical skills are your ticket to the event, but it is the soft skills that will determine whether or not you will get the job or the promotion.”  We espouse the term like everyone knows what these soft skills are.  Sure, we know that is usually means things like team work, problem solving, and communication.  But, think about those terms.  What are we saying?  We are saying something like the elements of salt water are the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, or the South China Sea.  These terms are so broad that there are volumes written on them.

So how do we as leaders counsel others including ourselves about the elements of these board topics so that we are highlighting the critical elements of these “soft skills”.  And, as the critical elements change; how do we get that across to our teams and mentees?  This is a crucial question because it is being able to recognize these changes and being able to articulate them that allows us as leaders to stay relevant.  It is what is going to make the difference between being current or stagnant.

Let’s take for example the topic of several news reports over the past weekend about a critical skill that the Millennials seem to be missing.  It seemed that no matter what news story you watched, they all discussed an aspect of communication.  It is not that the Millennials did not communicate, it was how they were communicating or not communicating.  There seemed to be a lack of direct person-to-person communication via telephone or face-to-face.  Sure, the Millennials would text, use Instagram, or some other social media tool, but these did not involve a direct person-to-person interaction with the non-verbal clues.  Employers are indicating; it is how these individuals are handling or not handling these direct interactions that were costing these individuals, either in terms of not landing jobs or in poor ratings on the job.

Telling a student or mentee or young professional that they need to improve their communication skills may or may not get the point across.  These individuals think that they are communicating and don’t understand what is missing.  We as leaders have to start really articulating what is missing in the soft skill.  In the example, what is missing is that these individuals haven’t had to learn or deal with nuisance or really understand how their bearing conveys just as much of a message as the words they use.

Add to this that some of these “soft skill” areas begin to tread into dangerous territory, the world of perceived discrimination.  For those of us that lived in a bit of a different time, where your superior came in and discussed your physical appearance without consequence; we now have to carefully handle these situations in such a manner as to not trip over a regulation or create a perceived negative environment.  This makes it a challenge in how we guide or mentor individuals to ensure that get the appropriate guidance.  Which is why, we as leaders have to spend the time to think about how to address some of these soft skill issues as well as create safe places and situations where these skills can be learned and practiced.

As soft skills are culturally disseminated, the first thing that we as leaders have to do is become models of the desired behavior.  We must demonstrate the professionalism we desire.  We need to be open to criticism ourselves. We need to encourage dialog.  And, we need to learn how really verbalize areas where the culture is changing and communicate how some actions are perceived by others.  We have to develop a new critical soft skill – dealing with sensitive issues in a sensitive manner.

What happens now?

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If you look at the calendar and the milestones in people’s lives, May and June are months of major significance.  In the United States, graduations from high school and college are common events as well as the beginnings of marriages and new careers.  These events are culminations of long-term planning.  (Even if you didn’t realize it at the time.)  And, once the excitement of the celebration is over, you may be waking up feeling lost and adrift.

What happens now?  Some may be lucky enough to already, have another long-term goal or may be working on one.  For example, you just graduated and are planning on pursuing a higher degree; or are working, and now are turning to focus on that next big project or promotion.  But, for others, all of a sudden you achieved what you were after and then…….  Well, it is time to figure out what’s next.

How does one go about it?  Many of us know the usual goal setting steps (or do we?) and how to state a goal.  Zig Ziglar gave us seven; Bradley Foster gave us ten; and Wikihow gives us ten.  We are told our goals need to be SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and have a timeframe.  But, the steps?  Let’s look at Zig Ziglar’s seven, because most of the versions are similar:

  • State the goal
  • Set a deadline
  • Identify the obstacles
  • Identify the people, groups and organizations that can assist
  • List the benefits of achieving the goal
  • List the skills needed to attain the goal
  • Develop a plan

Okay, but what is the goal?  What is the next step? How do I tell what my next goal should be?  What am I being called or driven to do?  It is this unknown that sets a person adrift.  Because once we are able to articulate what it is we are after or where we are headed; the usual goal setting wisdom and attributes help us.  And, it is the easy part: developing the long-term plan on how to achieve it.  The conventional wisdom does nothing for helping us assess what it is we want to achieve.

Determining the direction or the next personal goal requires self-awareness, introspection, and self-assessment.  One has to take some quiet time and think about what makes them happy; what they like to do; and if they could wave that magic wand what would be their perfect world.  One method may be to PREP: pause, re-assess, evaluate and prepare.  The pause step is the most critical, one needs to stop and think about those serious questions.  One needs to fuel the imagination, and one needs to picture what that future state may be.  This is a very difficult thing to do as we don’t necessarily like to look into ourselves, and finding the time to do this with all of our day-to-day pressures adds to the complexity.

Yet, it is essential because if we don’t, we will remain adrift or someone else will be making these crucial decisions for us.  This leaves us unfulfilled, and miserable.  It is critical that one steps aside and think about what is it that drives us, what is it that we want to achieve, and how do view my personal success?

How to get to this point?  We know that we need to be able to state the goal, picture it, and articulate it.  But, what methods or techniques do we use?  There are some tried and true ones:

  1. Where do you want to be in a year?
  2. Where do you want to be in three years?
  3. Where do you want to be in five years?

These are a bit stale because they are used as interview and annual review techniques; so we tend to give “pat” answers or the ones that the person asking the questions want to hear.  And, this still requires a person to have a longer term view.

Other questions may seem strange, yet can provide deeper insight;

  • What do you want your high school reunion summary to say?
  • Why should you be invited to speak at a graduation ceremony?
  • What words would you like to have on your headstone?
  • How do you want ___________ (your mother, your spouse, your colleagues, your friends) to describe you?
  • What things don’t you want to be said about you? (Sometimes it is easier to look at the negative than the positive.)
  • If you could choose one accomplishment, what would it be?

These questions will help you to paint a picture of that elusive long term goal.  Once, you have that the rest is just a paperwork exercise to outline the path.