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The Three “Ws” of Reflection

In the last blog post we spoke about influence and its importance to leaders.  This post focuses on reflection and its role in helping leaders influence those around them.  The key point? Before you can influence others, you need to learn about yourself and identify what you want to influence.

What is reflection?

First, let’s look at a simple, working definition of reflection. It is a distinctly human ability to reflect on our actions and by doing so, participate in continuous improvement and learning. In the particular case we are looking at, it is reflection on our experience in the workplace pertaining to our roles as leaders. It is a method of personal professional development and at the same time allows us to more easily relate it to what others are doing and thinking.  It becomes a leader’s point of reference as they lead others.

Barnett and O’Mahony in their work “Developing a Culture of Reflection: Implications for School Improvement” state:

“Therefore we define reflection as a learning process examining current or past practices, behaviors, or thoughts in order to make conscious choices about future actions. This definition implies that reflection is the combination of hindsight, insight, and foresight.”

It should be tied to our core values and beliefs.  So for example, when reflecting on action or decision we might ask ourselves, “I believe all people should be treated with respect.  Was my action respectful of the people it affected? How?” The first question asks if the action was aligned to our belief that all people should be treated with respect.  The second question forces us to think how it is aligned-what are the specific factors that made it respectful.  Reflecting on the how, helps insure we can replicate good decisions. 

Three Steps of reflection

Step One: What Happened?

Think about what happened. Identify the details, the facts and be concrete. Here are some sample questions to guide this part of the process:

  • What led up to the event?
  • Who was involved?
  • What happened during the event?
  • How did the event conclude?
  • What were you trying to accomplish?
  • What were the others involved trying to accomplish?

Step Two: Why Did It Happen?

In Step Two, we reflect on both the why and what we have learned. Again, we need to be as concrete as possible. Questions should include:

  • Why was this important to you?
  • Was it important to the others involved?
  • Why did it conclude the way it did?
  • Were their indicators/signs of this issue that could have been identified earlier?
  • Would that have affected the outcome?

Step Three: What Did We Learn?

Reflection is, in a sense, a process of monitoring ourselves and our actions.  As with every monitoring process, an essential element is analysis and application of the new information we learned.  Questions for this important step include:

  • How do you move forward?
  • What would you do the same or differently?
  • How can you anticipate future such interactions?
  • Why is what I learned important to me as a leader?
  • Why is what I learned important to the people I lead?
  • What are the pros and cons of using this information to guide my leadership style moving forward?
  • How best can I share what I have learned?

Why Reflect?

An important question to answer is, “Why?”  Everyone’s day is pretty filled already.  Why should you add something else to your plate? 

First I believe firmly that when reflection is done well, you end up managing your time well. You focus your energies on that things that matter. The things that are going to bring back not only the best returns, but also support your leadership vision.

Second, answering the questions above as part of a reflective process can help you become a more effective “change agent.”  Leaders who question themselves and analyze their actions more easly identify where they can have the most leverage and what actions can make best use of that leverage and influence.

Third, it is an exercise in self-discovery and know who you are makes it easier for you to choose actions that will demonstrate who you are to the people you lead.  Reflection helps you stay true to your convictions, beliefs and principles and that makes it easier for people to trust you.

Fourth, you develop and model a mindset of continuous improvement.  It helps create a mindset that let’s everyone know, “We need to keep learning.”


Finally, you need to the most comfortable way to document your reflections.  I use https://jrnl.com/ . It is free and searchable.

Reviewing several months or a year of reflections can help you see patterns of success and failures. Looking at the big picture as opposed to only individual circumstances yields more information that can support your leadership style. 

Brad Lomenick, author of “Humble, Hungry, and Hustle,” writes that your leadership success is built upon habitual work:

“It is worked out every day in the tasks we complete, the ways we approach our work, and the rhythms we nurture in our lives. It hangs on the hooks of the patterns we create, not just the success we may stumble upon.” 

We don’t always learn from doing, we can always learn by reflecting on what we have done.

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