woman's reflection on lake, self-reflection

Self-reflection and action in leadership – making it happen

“Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.” –  Peter Drucker

In Part 1 of this article, we looked at self-reflection as a process that involves taking time to think about and review yourself, increasing your self-awareness. As such, we looked at the importance of self-reflection and action in leadership development, as it pertains to improving your ability to understand yourself and others. We looked at three areas for attention and reflection:

  • Personal ambitions, passions, intentions, goals
  • Individual and organisational values
  • Personality types

This time, we explore self-reflection and action in leadership development:

  • Thinking styles
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Reflective learning – what to do and how to do it

Thinking styles

A person’s cognitive (thinking) style is their natural strategy or preference for gathering, processing, interpreting, evaluating and responding to data and other information. So, some people are quick processors, some slow. Furthermore, some like to take in information by listening, or by discussing, others by seeing pictures, or by reading or actively doing things, hands-on. Additionally, people also have different decision-making strategies. To this end, some people make quick decisions based on gut instinct, others through experience, deep thinking, or after extensive research.

  • How do you like to learn?
  • What might get in the way of your learning?
  • How do you make decisions?

If leaders are to get the most out of themselves and the people in their teams, they must learn the ways in which different people prefer to process information. With this knowledge, you can aim to meet your own preferred thinking and learning style for best results. Additionally, you will be able to relate and interact with others more effectively, in accordance with their preferred styles.

So, you might want to take a test or learn more about your learning style… Whilst there is debate around the efficacy of learning styles, one expert concedes that ‘Everyone is able to think in words, everyone is able to think in mental images. It’s much better to think of everyone having a toolbox of ways to think, and think to yourself, which tool is best?’



Emotional Intelligence

Professor Daniel Goleman popularised the term Emotional Intelligence, when he defined EI as:

‘The capacity for recognising our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships.’

According to Goleman there are 4 interlinked domains that make up EI: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management.


Being self-aware is having a deep understanding of your emotions, your strengths, your limitations, your values and your motives, and their effects on others. Hence, self-awareness usually requires reflection and thoughtfulness.


From self-awareness flows self-management. This is the focused drive that a manager needs to achieve goals. Hence, self-management is the ability to control or redirect your own disruptive impulses and moods. Therefore, we know that emotions are contagious. Therefore it is essential for managers to manage their own feelings, before trying to deal with the emotions of others.


The ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people, to recognise their needs and to contribute to meeting those needs is social awareness. Importantly, empathy, or the ability to ‘read’ another person’s emotional state is the fundamental element of social awareness.

Relationship management

Managing relationships skilfully involves managing other people’s emotions as well as being attuned to your own and able to empathise with those you manage. Hence, the first requirement is authenticity, or acting from your true core vision and values.

In a more recent article, Goleman and Nevarez suggest that 3 reflections can help you boost your EI:

  • Identity the differences between how you see yourself and how others see you.
  • Think about what matters to you.
  • Reflect on the changes will you make to achieve these goals.

Therefore we know that EI is a learned ability to perceive, understand and express our feelings accurately, and control our feelings so they work for us, not against us.

As we saw in the first part, self-reflection and awareness of our personal ambitions, passions, goals, values and personality types impacts on our leadership capacity. In addition, thinking styles and Emotional Intelligence provide us with greater self-knowledge to further develop ourselves and our leadership skills.

So, how do we practise regular self-reflection?


learning, self-reflection, reflective journaling

Self-reflection and action in leadership – making it happen

Reflective learning – what to do and how to do it

– Schedule time for reflection in your working day

Some people are so busy doing their job, they don’t take time to reflect on what they’re doing, and how they can improve on it. So, make time for this valuable task.

  • Make sure you plan time to reflect in your calendar or diary, even if just for 10 minutes daily, and commit to it, because you and the organisation will reap the benefits. Some of my clients like to set an alarm to remind them; others make it a ritual to reflect at the end of each workday, before heading home – or on the journey home.
  • Encourage your staff to reflect individually and as a group, too, by dedicating time for discussion, Q&A, or quiet contemplation, in meetings.

Peter Miller says: ‘Reflective learning is a well-grounded theory based on the capacity of an individual to reflect on their own words and actions and to undertake a learning process through such reflection. This can be done every day at work while you are on the job.’

– Focus on the positives

Although it is important to be realistic and acknowledge your weaknesses to find ways to improve – ensure that you don’t only focus on the negatives.

  • Be solution-focused. Hence, if you feel the need to critique something you’ve done, ensure that you take the learning from any perceived failures and plan a better response, to improve your performance in future.
  • Acknowledge your strengths. In Harvard Business Review’s How Self-Reflection Can Help Leaders Stay Motivated by Lanaj, Foulk and Erez, the authors describe how leaders were motivated by a morning ritual of writing down three things they felt made them a good leader: ‘on days when leaders took a few minutes in the morning to reflect and write about aspects of themselves that make them good leaders, they subsequently felt less depleted and more engaged, and they reported having a positive impact on their followers.’

– Experiment with ways of reflecting

Depending on your preferences, learning and thinking styles and personality type, there are various ways you can develop reflective practice.

  • You can reflect alone – whether in your head or on paper or screen, or by using a journaling app.
  • Develop your skills in reflective learning by keeping a journal, in which you write/dictate/video your thoughts and feelings on work events and decisions. Record your learning – either in a free-form way, or you can use cues and questions.
  • Question yourself: ‘What went well today? What didn’t go well? How could I improve on this?’ Or ‘what should I… stop? … start? … continue?’
  • Or think about:
    • Responsibility: ‘How am I contributing to this difficult relationship with X?’
    • (In)action: What were the effects of what I did (or did not do)?
    • The good: What positive aspects now emerge for me, in practice, from what happened?
    • My network: What help do I need to ‘action’ the results of my reflections?
  • Or search online for ‘reflective questions’.
  • Reflect with others – with a colleague or team at work, or by engaging in supervision or coaching and mentoring sessions. By employing an independent professional like a coach, you have a listening ear with whom you can discuss your actions, thoughts and feelings. You’ll receive clarification and insights by answering their searching questions, and they will hold you accountable, too.

See also Harvard Business Review’s Why You Should Make Time for Self-reflection.

In summary…

Self-reflection and action in leadership is key to developing as a leader. Select the best way to reflect, for you – to supercharge your leadership. Be aware of the impact you have on other people through your interaction with them and understand how your own behaviour and actions can drive effective outcomes forward. And, if you need some guidance or someone to lead you through the process – ask for help!


monkey looking in mirror, self-reflection

If you feel that you or your organisation would benefit from help with reflection, coaching or mentoring as part of your leadership development, please get in touch to explore the possibilities open to you. I look forward to hearing from you!

Please feel free to download my new resource Designing Your Leadership Self-Reflection Practice – Guided Writing Prompts – packed with tips, tools, and guided prompts to launch your leadership self-reflection practice as you continue to strengthen your leadership.

Email me: palena@unabridgedleadership.com

Visit my website: www.unabridgedleadership.com

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