I once visited with a man while I was on an intercontinental flight. His specialty was analyzing disasters. He gleaned enormous leadership lessons by reviewing airline crashes. He and his team would dissect what went wrong that caused an airliner to run out of fuel and crash, or a plane to fly into the side of a mountain. Inevitably, he would discover that human error was to blame for the tragic loss of many lives. Because such crises are so horrific, the leadership lessons learned were profoundly instructive.
In talking with this man, I learned that he was about to be married for his second time. I couldn’t help but ask if he had used his keen analytical skills in diagnosing the cause of his failed marriage. He hadn’t. Here was a man who was baffled at the foolishness of people who made mistakes that cost others dearly, yet it never occurred to him to reflect on his own failure so he could insure he did not make the same mistake twice.
Socrates is credited with having said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” He was correct. Reflection is a key leadership tool. Without it, we are doomed to repeat our mistakes. Reflection, however, requires a price. It demands that we take time to do some solid thinking. It entails that we get away from our normal routine so we can ponder our life’s circumstances and the issues we are facing. It means we must set our pride aside and look at ourselves as we are, not as we wish we were. It involves reviewing our actions and brutally evaluating them. It also entails being willing to make whatever adjustments are necessary so we experience greater success in the future.
It is especially important to reflect when you approach an ending. Whether it is the end of the year, the end of a project, or a job, it is always wise to take some time to review your experience. What did you learn? What would you do differently? Why? What would you do more of? Less of? What did you learn about yourself? In what areas do you need to mature? What skills do you need to work on or acquire? What books could you read that would help you? Is there someone you should initiate a lunch meeting with so you can learn from them? Reflection is not merely taking time to be idle. It is aggressively seizing everything of value you can from your recent experience so you are a better person, and leader, in the future. Take time soon, to reflect.