Tag Archives: reflection

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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We all are Leaders and it is Past Time for Leadership

Each and everyone of us is a leader in some form or fashion.  How you lead is your choice.  This past week has seen some examples of leadership or lack thereof across the board.  Here are some of the events of the past week:

1) Ferguson, Mo.

2) Twitterverse #shirt firestorm

3) Hagel – Yes Man or obviously not a Yes Man

4) What Constitution?

Four very different events, and four varied examples of leadership.  For those of us old enough to have witnessed various aspects of the Civil Rights Movement – I lived in the deep south in the early seventies and can tell you from experience that there was a double standard – there still is – but it is more hidden.  The events this past summer were tragic – from both sides.  What is sad now is that people have become so entrenched in their view – they can’t see the other side’s point.  So, what happens?  We have leaders exploiting a situation to make a point, but is it really the point that needs to be made?

There are good and bad people.  There are good and bad situations.  Having not been there – I can’t say what exact the case was.  But, what I do know – is that destroying a city is not the correct response.  Congratulations for the community members that are helping to cleanup (which the news hasn’t shown).  Congratulations to the leaders who have spoken out against how various individuals have reacted.  But really, demonstrations across the US for this incident?  What about the tragedy that happens every day in poor neighborhoods? What about the daily violence by neighbor on neighbor?  It isn’t about race, it is about lack of opportunity.  It is about lack of understanding.  It is about how we as individuals treat each other.  We as individuals have to stand up and say – no matter what, the behavior exhibited was intolerable.  Several of the historic Civil Rights Icons would be appalled at this behavior.

This leads to the #shirt firestorm.  For those of you not familiar, the Mission Leader for the Comet landing made a poor choice in attire for an on camera interview.  It was a retro shirt, that was deemed offensive to women in the workplace.  An example of creating a hostile work environment for women in Science, and Technology.  From my perspective, over 25 years in a male dominated science environment – and in the oil patch, come-on get real.  If this is what you are holding up as evidence of a hostile environment, you really haven’t seen one.  Yes, there is a double standard.  Guess what, there is always going to be a in-crowd and an out-crowd.  It may be gender, it may be philosophical, it may be educational, it may be attitude, etc.  The gains that have been made in science are huge for some disciplines – for others not so much.  Critical mass has been reached in chemistry, chemical engineering, and other areas.  Physics, electrical engineering, and others the numbers are pretty stagnant.  As female or male leaders, it is our responsibility to ask questions.  To look for diversity, of all kinds thought, gender, backgrounds, race, etc.; as one of my students recently put it – “it wasn’t until we were placed on teams that I really learned that working as a team we were able to do something beyond what I thought could be done.”

Our responsibility as leaders is to ask why the general physics class  is 75% women and the engineering physics class is 90% men.  At least this year, it is because that is the perceived career path of medicine versus engineering.  I can remember a day when both classes would have been 90% plus male.  Next springs engineering class looks more 50-50.  It is our responsibility to have diversity in the teams, in the funding groups, etc.  OK, it was a poor choice of shirt (for a variety of reasons) – but is it really a hostile work environment?  I have seen worse on the internet media related to who do science by organizations who are pro-actively promoting women in science.

Then there are two events from the administration within the past week.  The resignation of Chuck Hagel – who was presumed to be a yes man.  Congratulations to him – as it turned out he was not.  No matter what your job is, or your politics.  Each and every one of us has to make some personal decisions. What are my beliefs, and when do I draw the line?  I don’t have any inside information, nor have I followed this series of actions with in the administration to determine which way it really went, but as an outsider looking in – it appears that line was drawn and he had the integrity to stand his ground.

The other issue was the Executive Order.  First, I need to go on record saying that yes something needed to be done.  Yes, our immigration policy needs fixing.  Yes, there are situations that no matter how you address are not ideal solutions, and we need to exercise compassion.  But, the how is important as well.  There is a question as to why – if other Presidents used the Executive Order – why is this different?  Here is the reason – the other Presidents used the Executive Order to implement the will of Congress – not defy it.  Additionally, this Executive Order was contrary to what our Leader had previously stated he could not do – you can find numerous sound bites, clips, interviews, etc. that indicate that at least up until a few weeks ago, our President did not feel that he had authority under the Constitution to do what was done.  I am not debating the underlying issue – what I am concerned with is the lesson in Leadership that was presented.

It is my belief that this was an example of poor leadership. Yes, there are times when a leader needs to take action, but was there such a crisis on this issue that as a leader, he could not take time to work through the issue given the confines of our governmental structure?  I don’t believe that there was such a crisis, at least on this particular issue.  In fact, I believe that this action, may have created a critical crisis for those individual impacted two years down the road.  I believe that this action has made a bad situation for them even worse.  Yes, there is temporary relief – but what happens in two years with the Executive Order expires?

As a leader, do you really want to create a feud with the other branches of government?  History is filled with examples of this, and none of them turn out well.  One of the beauties of our system is that we can have debate, we can reach consensus.  Yet, this action is the result of what appears to be childish behavior.  Why was this necessary?  Because of refusals to put various items up for vote – be it in Committee, the House or the Senate.  All are cases where our leaders appear to be acting as spoiled children, and not Statesman. (Please forgive the wording as there currently not a politically correct version of this word, yet.)  The words of the writers and debaters of the Constitution are coming true.

Leaders need to step forward and address these issues.  We need individuals to step-up and take stands.  For many this may mean, taking the time out to debate the issues.  But, we need to start at home, by teaching respect.  Respect for each other, respect for others property, respect for others views, and respect for the history that is shared.  We all have differing view points – we all see similar problems, just not the same solutions.  We need to respect each other to give individuals a chance to listen – you may find out you have more in common with them and their ideas than you thought.  A group with diverse viewpoints might just happen to create a better and more elegant solution than anyone ever thought possible.

How do you stay current? Or, preparing for the next breakthrough.

One of my all time favorite leadership quotes comes from Lewis Carroll’s Queen of Hearts:

“My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place.  And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.”

In our constant contact, fast paced, instant information world;  you know that it is a requirement to stay current.  But, the question is how?

Many professionals stay current by subscribing to some sort of digest service (my personal inbox gets over a dozen digests each day).  Your professional societies are also a great source of critical new information in your chosen field.  Then, there are a host of personal digesting services or apps out there.  But, this still does not solve the problem of how.  Because, it isn’t the technical side of getting the information that holds us back; it is the time to review, assess, and comprehend the information that is the trick.

As leaders, you know that it is important to stay current in your chosen field.  This is equivalent to the Queen’s running just to stay in place.  It is information from other areas or solutions applied in one industry that can be modified to apply in another.  So, not only do you have to deal with the information, you don’t have time for it now; but, you know to get to that next breakthrough, you have to “drink from the fire hose.”

So, what do you do?  Of course, there is the shut down response – do nothing and hide in the dark.  This won’t help, but may make you feel better temporarily.  Here are some more constructive approaches:

1) Keep an active read pile – both an electronic one and a physical one.  Instapaper is a great clipping service that can help you manage those internet or electronic articles you want to read.  It is accessible through any device which makes it very helpful.  You can use the same process, pulling out only those articles you want to read from your magazines and placing them in a folder which you can take with you to read over lunch.  (If nothing else this reduces the physical pile of magazines to a more manageable stack.)

2) Make some time to read – Give your self permission to stop and take time to read.  You might do it over your coffee break.  Or use an application like NaturalReader to convert the information into an audio file so you can listen to that article while running the treadmill.  This is one time where multitasking may be actually beneficial.

3) Relocate to a different place or office when it is time to read.  Don’t sit at your desk, if you do – you know what happens – you won’t dedicate the time that you need.  It gets swallowed up by other things.

Finally, make sure that you have something to write with or take notes on.  Those ideas that come to you while you are reading may just be the thing you need to make that next breakthrough!

 

And Winter is suddenly upon us…

Most of the U.S. is about to be gripped by winter weather throwing us headlong into the winter season, whether we like it or not.  These weather changes force most of us to change our normal routines, and may even have greater impacts like canceling events, trips, and completing specific tasks.  Yes, Mother Nature sometimes has to come out and announce that we aren’t always in charge.

 

For leaders, we can use this as a learning experience – finding leadership principals in a place where you least expect them and maybe even provide you with an opportunity to practice some new and/or rusty skills.  For example:

–          Adaptation – I once had a colleague that said they would never hire a person who did not at least play a video game at some point.  His reasoning was – that you can plan for several possibilities, but the game usually results in an unanticipated or an unexpected change that forces you to adapt.  Winter weather forces us to adapt to changing conditions, availability of resources, and sometimes how we have to accomplish the task. (How are you going to get that project done, if the network is down? Or, you can’t physically make it to the meeting in Chicago?)  As leaders we all have to adapt to rapidly changing conditions.  So, use this time to practice a bit – do you have a Plan B or C or D?

–          Reflection – When you are stuck in the airport due to a flight delay – how do you use that time?  Or, all of a sudden you don’t have to take that trip or go to that meeting – how do you fill the void?  You might take this time to do a bit of reflection.  As leaders, we need to build in time to our schedules to reflect on how things are going. What resources could have been better used?  Do you have the right tools?  Use these unexpected down times – to start practicing the art of reflection.

–          Listening – In the din of all the noise, preparation, and chaos of the season – there are times when the office is empty or you are walking to the car and snow has created a hush.  You might reach into your toolkit and really start listening to the important things.  Because of the noise you may have to really focus – thus you are practicing listening in the extreme.  Similarly when you get the extreme quiet – you need to focus on the individual sounds – again practicing listening at the opposite extreme.  Use this time to sharpen that underutilized skill.

I am sure you can find some other leadership skill opportunities – networking at holiday parties, practicing patience, and renewing a sense of excitement and wonder.  Take this opportunity to look for ways to improve your skills, while dealing with the challenges that life places in front of you.

Enjoy this time – it is a time of awakening and growth.