The Importance of Reflection

Leaders Need a Time of Personal and Professional Reflection

What were you doing at this same time last year? For many of us, it is a family time of year. We are basking in the glow of Christmas. And that glow causes us to have an optimistic outlook for the coming year. Is there any value in looking back with some intentionality before we look forward to the new year? I think so.

Consider the words of the ancient Chinese philosopher, Confucius. He said:

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.

Confucius tells us that the highest and best method of becoming wise is by reflection. Do you suppose there are any leadership development implications or inferences that we can draw from his words?

The Problem

Many leaders are “Action Oriented.” We are in constant motion and we move from task to task, crisis to crisis, meeting to meeting and we do it from morning till night. There is zero time in our daily schedule for reflecting. Many leaders have adopted methodologies or routines that call for a time of daily planning. I have such a time scheduled on my calendar for the beginning of every day. That time is a time of planning and of looking forward to the events and activities of the day. The day becomes a week. The weeks become months. And the months become a year and we have spent the entire year planning for what is right in front of us or just over the horizon. But, how much time has been spent in reflecting on the outcomes, successes or failures from all of that planning? Do you see the problem?

The Solution

Let me advocate a moment for a solution. Let me advocate for a time of personal and professional reflection as we close out this year and before we get too deep into next year. Let me advocate for a time of looking back at the year that has come to an end and to do so with intentionality, with purpose, and with a little structure. Do you think that may be aligned with what Confucius was saying? More importantly, do you think that may make all of your planning for the upcoming year more valuable?

Reflection is a vital practice for leaders. It requires that we have slowed or even stopped the planning and actioning for a brief period of time. It is most valuable when we add some “listening” to the process. For many, it is a time to listen to God, to listen to others from our circle of influence. and to listen to oneself and that inner voice that speaks to us. It provides opportunities for learning, it stimulates growth, it encourages celebration of milestone events, it identifies the need for course corrections from time to time, it allows grieving over loss and failure, and it helps to point out what the priorities really were in the year as it comes to a close.

The Process

Here is the process. It is fairly quick. It can take as little as an hour of your time. Assuming a 40 hour work week (and who only works 40 hours?), there are 2,080 work hours in the year. One hour of that time is less than 5 hundredths of a percent of your year. Can you spare that amount of time?

If so, here are some ways to spend that hour of reflection:

Look back and remember — I began this article with a question asking what you were doing this time last year. Do you remember? It was a whole year ago. Reflection is often difficult because we simply can’t remember what’s happened over a longer time-frame. And the older we get, the harder it becomes. For me, 2018 was the year where I made a “Bullet Journal” (BuJo) a part of my daily routine. I have used journaling or planning tools for most of my adult life. But, bullet journaling has been the most impactful for me. All I have to do is flip through the pages of my bullet journal and I can “remember” everything of any significance that happened this past year. 

Reflect on these remembrances — Reflection can take the form of some questions to ponder as you look back at the things that have come to mind. Consider these questions as “starter questions” for your own reflecting:

  • What’s been hardest?
  • What has been really easy?
  • What surprised you most?
  • What are you thankful for?
  • What were your biggest successes?
  • Where did you fail? 
  • Why do you think you failed?
  • What did you learn?
  • What’s been disappointing to you?
  • Who or what do you need to grieve?
  • Where have you been stretched? 
  • Where have you grown?
  • Who did you impact the most this year?

These are in no particular order. And you may come up with some reflecting questions on your own. But, these may get you started.

Process and share — Many of us have been told the importance of sharing our goals as a form of personal accountability. The same is true for the reflecting process. I am not recommending that you post your failures, disappointments, or lessons learned for the entire social media universe. Emphatically no! My point is that neither the process nor the output is done completely in a vacuum or private setting. The output needs to be shared with a select few who may already be a part of your leadership accountability ecosphere. 


I have a dedicated multi-page spread in my current 2018 BuJo and I have a similar multi-page spread that is already taking shape in my 2019 BuJo as well.  And it dovetails perfectly into my planning and goal setting process for 2019. If you are interested in a tool that can help you in this process, click this link and download a free resource to help you in this process. It is not too late to reflect on 2018. This process can take place at any time in the year. But, now is the perfect time for many of us. 

Let me know how you plan for the upcoming year. Do you use a time of reflection as part of that process? I’d love to know. Click here to send me a note and tell me about your process or help me collect more questions for times of personal and professional reflection.

Happy New Year!

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I am the husband of a beautiful and wonderful woman. I am the father of two of the greatest kids on the planet. I am a father-in-law to a great young woman. And I am Papa to three very special grandchildren. In my spare time I am an active blogger and writer. And if there is any time left over, I work with small non-profit organizations and churches on the topics of change management, crisis intervention and leadership development.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.