I live one mile from work. Rather than take speedier modes of transportation in my commute, I prefer to walk the 20 or so minutes. I have been enjoying it, especially in these last few months where I’ve been able to stomp over crunchy leaves and breathe in the crisp autumn air. My walks allow me to pause at the beginning and at the end of my day to take in the beauty of my neighborhood and most of all, reflect. The busier my days are, the more I treasure this quiet time to work through sticky problems in my head, to look back on a particular moment and either triumph in something done right or consider what I could have done better, or just to let my mind wander.
When I participated in the Regional Institute for Health and Environmental Leadership (RIHEL) program last year, one of the main lessons they emphasized was actively carving out time in busy schedules for reflection. Even though it was unintentional that I have been carving out such time in my day, I now truly understand the many benefits for reflection and its role in quality leadership.
First, reflection allows for a leader to look back on positive moments that should be built upon and repeated in the future. Celebrating what you do right is important; it builds confidence and habit. If I said something that sparked a great conversation in a meeting or posed a profound question, I’d like to take pride in that so I can keep doing what is right for the work and for my role.
Second, reflection can keep us from becoming complacent. It is an opportunity to look at the things that we could have done better, replaying them in our mind and looking for alternate endings. It helps us identify why we did not do as well and what we would have done differently. We learn and adjust for when the next opportunity arrives. Challenging ourselves to constantly grow and change—to expand our comfort zones—helps us to become better and better leaders over time.
Reflection also provides the opportunity for balance and realignment. It can help us refocus on what is most important, reminding us that even though we are leaders, pushing ourselves constantly to improve and grow, we are human beings first. It can be hard to stay true to the course in achieving your vision if we too often feel harried and stressed. By taking the time to pause, leaders can stay centered and see how our efforts affect the greater vision and if we are still on the right path forward.
I may have begun taking these strolls for both my mental health and for my infatuation with the sound of crunchy leaves, but I’ll continue to take them because there is the residual benefit of helping me to grow as a leader. I invite you to seek out time in your own day for reflection and see what it can do for you!