Business Columns & Blogs

Nancy Napier: Why leaders need to take time to reflect

Imagine that a university student asks if she could interview you for 30 minutes about any tips or insights you have from being a leader? Who could turn a student down, especially if you get to talk about a topic that may be very close to your heart?

I often give my students that assignment. I ask them to identify, and then interview, a leader they admire. This requires them, first, to think about what “being a leader” means and then to find someone that fits that bill. The students gain, to be sure, but I suspect the assignment also gives the leaders a chance to do something they may not often take time for, to reflect on what they do, why and how.

I think most of us consider taking time for reflection as a luxury. I’ll bet even now you may be thinking, “oh right, maybe I’ll do a bit of that over the holidays.” But I find that the best leaders make it a priority.

Now and then, I give my favorite leaders the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. He was a Roman Emperor for just under twenty years but was considered one of the best leaders, in war and at home. He wrote his meditations often while in the midst of war or crisis. They are wonderful short thoughts on all sorts of leadership aspects. Easy to read, short enough to tackle just before you go to sleep (or at 3am if you wake up), or when you’ve got a bit of time to kill.

Part of what has always appealed to me about the Meditations is the sense that, even while he was in the middle of some tough situations, Aurelius was able to pull back and look at a situation and himself in a reflective way. You get the impression that he needed to write, not just to reflect but sometimes to vent. Because he captured those thoughts, he could use them to help himself improve, understand how to react in different situations, and stay motivated.

So how could we learn to be more reflective? Find pockets of time, in the shower, when you walk the dog, when you drive to work, and make reflection a priority:

1. Try to reflect at day’s or week’s end about what you’ve learned and how you might do something differently the next time. 2. Remember to focus on what’s important. We often get dragged into the urgent and that can drum out the important.

3. Make reflection “real work.” Treat yourself and your time with the same respect you do for others. Make that appointment with yourself to step back, reflect on what you’re doing and make sure it’s what you should be doing, right now, in this moment.

And if you need a bit of inspiration, identify someone you really want to learn from and go have coffee. You could be treating the other person to a little bit of luxury.