I will take time to be alone today. I will take time to be quiet. In this silence I will listen… and I will hear my answers. – Ruth Fishel
One of my great pleasures is going for a walk on the six-mile-long and generally empty beach a couple blocks from my house. There’s the remnant of a long-dormant (hopefully!) volcano at one end that is strangely humbling. A long walk in such a beautiful spot creates a connection between nature, my body, my mind, and God— a connection often never made while I’m buried in the chaos of normal life. It is a time for reflection and re-centering that allows me to contemplate many important questions as I walk: How am I doing, mentally, spiritually, and physically? What am I grateful for? What do I need to forgive myself for? Am I on track to achieve my personal and professional goals? What countermeasures do I need to put in place? What new opportunities can I create? What should I do more or less of? What activities or thoughts should I stop? Regularly asking and answering those questions is critical for effective professional and personal leadership.
On a personal level, I have a fairly standardized reflection regime. Each evening I reflect on the day’s activities, both personal and professional. If I didn’t accomplish my Big Three goals, I try to understand why and put into place countermeasures to improve. I also take stock of how I am doing emotionally, spiritually, and physically.
At least once or twice a week, generally as part of my meditation practice, I walk on the beach and do a deeper reflection with myself, as described above. Once a month, I review my journal, looking for open action items and copying and consolidating them to a new page. The act of doing this sparks a conversation with myself about those action items. Are they still important? If so, why were they not accomplished? What can I do differently?
Each quarter, I try to get away for a couple days of solitude and a change of pace for reviewing and reflecting (datsuzoku and seijaku) on the year. Am I meeting my goals? What should I change?
Finally, once a year, generally around the end of the calendar year, I will go away on a peaceful vacation with my wife. During that time, both with her and while alone, I will do a final reflection on the year. I ask myself if I am holding true to my principles and values, what should change, and what goals I should set for the following year.
This type of individual reflection is valuable, and it is also very beneficial for professional teams to do a regular group reflection. In the Lean world, this is called hansei. I used to take my executive staff to an offsite meeting at least twice a year, generally at a local winery. We’d start by reviewing our core principles and values, determine if any adjustments needed to be made, then review our annual plans and goals. (Taking careful notes of these meetings was critical, because afterward, we would spend the rest of the afternoon partaking of the facility’s best beverages, celebrating and getting to know each other.)
Effective personal leadership, requiring conscious individual reflection, is critical for effective professional leadership. Take some time alone, perhaps in the grandeur of nature, to humbly ask yourself some tough questions. Your responses to these questions will help you clarify your own goals and principles, allowing you to share them with others in your professional life and your personal life.