woman holding mirror over water - self-reflection

Self-reflection in leadership

Self-reflection at its simplest means taking time to think, contemplate, examine and review yourself as part of increasing your self-awareness. Self-reflection in leadership means carving out time to review yourself as a leader and is critical for your leadership development. It involves examining your current level of skills, your strengths, weaknesses, behavioural patterns and how you seek to influence others. It is also about interrogating your values, goals and ambitions. All this serves to increase your self-knowledge, alignment, authenticity, and learning and growth. Self-reflection also accelerates improvement in your leadership skills and practice – and enables you to better understand others.

“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

Why self-reflection in leadership development?

However, according to consultant Peter Miller, once Associate Professor in Management  at  Southern  Cross University  Business  School,  Australia in Self-reflection: the key to effective leadership:

‘Most authorities on leadership development understand the importance of assisting managers and leaders to engage in self-discovery and self-reflection. Recorded statements from philosophers about the need for self-awareness and reflection for those in leadership positions goes back thousands of years to ancient philosophers and teachers like Confucius, Socrates, Plato, Jesus and Mohammed. However, research has shown that self-reflection is possibly a manager’s least favourite activity.’  

So why is self-reflection so difficult for some people? Apart from actually making time for it?

Jennifer Porter talks about the benefits of self-reflection to improve performance through assimilating lessons learned. And a recent study by Lanaj et al highlights the fact that self-reflection can motivate leaders to engage in energy-generating activities. Heightening their engagement and energising leaders also makes them more influential.

We know that self-reflection is an important process in leadership development – not only for new leaders, but for all leaders – especially those who operate in constantly changing environments.

Areas for self-reflection

Self-reflection can and should take place all throughout your leadership journey, and across all aspects of your leadership role. Let’s break down those different areas of self-knowledge:

  1. Personal ambitions, passions, intentions, goals
  2. Individual and organisational values
  3. Personality types
  4. Thinking styles
  5. Emotional Intelligence
  6. Reflective learning – what to do and how to do it

In this Part 1, I’ll talk about the first 3 areas of self-reflection in leadership. Look out for Part 2 of this article, next time.




woman self-reflecting superhero shadow

Image: Shutterstock

Ambitions, passions, goals 

In my coaching practice, I still see too many women who are reticent about their ambitions, and overly modest about their experience and achievements. It’s time to step up, speak out and be proud. Ask yourself, now:

  • Desire – what do you really want?
  • Passion – what lights your fire, and fills you with passion?
  • Goals – what are your primary goals?

Self-reflection and self-knowledge mean exploring who you are and what you want – and specifically, identifying what you want your leadership to look like. This takes into consideration not only your values and passions, but also involves recognising your strengths and acknowledging your skills and experiences.

  • What kind of leader do you want to be?
  • Who do you need to be, to lead on your own terms?


Personal and organisational values

When was the last time you articulated, reviewed, or reflected on your personal values? Take time to add this activity to your agenda. Reflect on the following questions and/or Google ‘personal values test’.

Understanding your personal values is the first step to self-awareness and is an important area of self-reflection in leadership. That said, we  we often develop our most important values unconsciously. Let’s bring them to consciousness.

  • A leader you admire – think of the person you most admire. Which three words or phrases describe the qualities you admire in them?
  • Your legacy – what do you want to be remembered for?
  • Core values – what are your values? Which things, people and qualities are most important to you?

Values-based leadership sets the tone for the organisation, from the top. Our values drive our behaviour, impacting on how we respond to the issues we encounter. They also serve as an example for others in the organisation. ‘Values-driven leadership’ has become even more important over the last decade and as Miller says, ‘the leader’s personal values may be one of the most important determinants of how the leader’s power is exercised or constrained’ in an organisation.

It is equally important to look at how your personal values align (or don’t align) with the values of the organisation you are working in.

  • What are your organisation’s values?
  • How do your personal values align with those of your organisation?
  • How do your leadership values align with your organisation’s leadership values?
  • Remember, values are not static – they can change over time – and they do not exist in isolation.


collage of different faces - diverse people - diversity


Personality types

As part of self-reflection in leadership, specifically the process of gaining self-awareness, leaders should also seek to understand their own personality type. For example, are you introverted or extroverted? Intuitive or analytical? What are your strengths? How do you self-sabotage? How does this impact on your work and relationships – and on your leadership style?

There are hundreds of personality type tests (like Myers Briggs, Hogan, DISC, Birkman) and instruments that are available free, online. Just type ‘big five personality test’ into your search engine – and find out what makes you tick. Or you might also want to try Shirzad Chamine’s positive intelligence test to identify your saboteurs. Once you understand your own personality type and appreciate its implications for yourself, your work, and your team, you can ‘work yourself’ better – you’ll know how to motivate yourself, and how to improve and enhance your performance.

Then, seek to understand the personality types of your managers and followers. This enables you to predict their individual behaviour and performance, and to act in ways relevant to people’s diverse personality types. This increases the effectiveness of your communication – and achieves better outcomes.

  • Self-learning: What have you learned about yourself, recently?
  • Descriptions: What three words or phrases most clearly define your personality?
  • Ideal: Who is your ideal self? 


rear view mirror - self-reflection

In summary…

You can be a really effective leader, through self-reflection. Be self-aware and know how you respond to various situations. And remember –

  • Schedule time for self-reflection in your day and/or week
  • Look at both what is going well and not so well, or find a balance between the positive and the negative
  • Find a way of reflecting that works for you

Next time, in Part 2, we’ll look at Self-reflection in leadership: Thinking styles, Emotional Intelligence, and Making it happen, for some practical tips to integrate self-reflection into your life.

If you feel that you or your organisation would benefit from help with self-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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