In our Leadership work with senior Executives, we are asked who our toughest clients are. The hardest leaders to coach are those that do not create/allow time for reflection. The most common challenge we find is quality time together. Everyone is SO busy doing, doing, and some more doing. Diaries and work schedules are unbelievably demanding.
This trend will only increase with the VUCA world we live in. The Boston Consulting Group measures an index called the “Complicated Index”. This index has been rising by nearly 7% per year over the last 50 years! It is said that we are living in the middle of a 50-year period of the most change ever experienced.
Deep thought and reflection are casualties of this high-pressure and high-stakes environment for Executives. CEOs find themselves rushing from event to event, Zoom calling on a back-to-back basis and making decisions “on the hoof” continually. Downtime is often regarded as wasted time.
No wonder that survey data suggests that most leaders are exhausted and unengaged at work. For example, Gallup reported that only 38% of executives are engaged at work.
So, here is the conundrum …. many of the reasons/possible answers for the busyness lie in the ability to reflect/explore alternate ways/ means of making our organisations more successful…. but we seem to prefer to continue being busier. This is the false belief/hope that “things will get better”. The old saying is that the height of insanity is to continue doing what one does with the expectation that a different result can be expected!
What then are the possible roadblocks to Reflection?
- The busyness dynamic is a reality, but too many times we experience Leaders hiding behind this, rather than trying to improve their time management and prioritisation capability. In our experience with many South African leaders, we simply are not proficient at good solid management practices. This is even more critical as we are challenged with poor education skill levels in our South African workforce, where the need for training and on-the-job support is more crucial.
- In working with business leaders and the issues that are occupying the Board Agenda, it is also evident that many of the issues could have been foreseen through some form of strategic planning. Furthermore, strategy is seen in many cases as purely a document that is a precursor to the budget process, and not a philosophy of doing business.
- Another road blocker is the power our brains have over our daily lives. Numerous cognitive neuroscientists have conducted studies that have revealed that only 5% of our cognitive activities (decisions, emotions, actions, and behaviours) are conscious, whereas the remaining 95% is generated in a non-conscious way. To all intent and purposes, we operate largely in Autopilot mode. In practical terms, this means that in a typical 10-hour workweek, the average executive engages in conscious thought only 24 minutes a workday! Reflection helps grow the 5% barrier!
- Many leaders simply don’t know how to reflect and use techniques that work for them.
- A key element is that many leaders don’t like the process of slowing down, adopting a mindset of not knowing and curiosity, tolerating messiness and inefficiency, and taking personal responsibility. This can lead to feelings of discomfort, vulnerability, defensiveness, and irritation.
- An unbelievably strong bias for action as part of their leadership style.
CEO’s who do make time to reflect, however, say it is time well spent and the BCG research on CEO success validates this view. Reflection leads to better insights into innovation, strategy, and execution. Reflection gives rise to better outcomes and higher credibility with corporate boards, leadership teams, workforces, and other stakeholders.
BCG offers three rules for effective reflection.
- Structure and a schedule to entrain the habit of Reflection. Time for reflection should be regularly scheduled and protected in the CEO’s calendar. Leadership Coaching is crucial in the techniques and practices of reflection.
- A trusted Dialogue Partner can assist CEOs in the process of introspection with honesty, away from the “public persona” often required of the CEO. Mentorship is very important as part of this process.
- Catalytic conversations that do not focus on current agendas/challenges and executional detail. The value of questions that are probing and non-routine are invaluable.
Reflective executives are productive in the short and long term, capable of both imagining and executing rewarding business success.
Now… time to break out of your acceleration Trap!
This article was written by guest contributor Henk Kleizen.