performance coach inspirational speaker acclaimed author sport psychology coach
about richard case studies articles & media testimonials creative solutions richard's views contact us
Link to Home Page Link to About Us
Integrating purposeful relection and performance
Purposeful reflection image

You attend meetings, type frenetically on your Blackberry then return phone calls – you multitask your way through your day. You are an effective manager who gets things done! Or are you? If you are not taking time to engage in purposeful reflection, your whirlwind of activity may be nothing more than “Active Non-Action”.

Authors Heike Bruch and Sumantra Ghoshal1 spent 10 years observing the behaviors of managers in nearly a dozen large corporations. They concluded that “a mere 10 per cent of the managers we observed spent their time in a committed, purposeful and reflective manner” while the other per cent of managers “squander their time in all sorts of ineffective activities,” a state they labeled “Active Non-Action”.

The benefits of reflection

As you might have guessed, the 10 per cent of managers who took time to reflect gained great benefits. They were more successful at engaging their teams, meeting their goals, and rejuvenating themselves. From my own experience as a performance coach, I add that leaders who reflect are more innovative and highly respected as teammates.

These benefits should not surprise anyone. When leaders slow down and reflect, even for a few minutes, they retreat to the core of their purpose; they re-engage with their strategic intention, then plan and act from a broader and aligned perspective. Here are three suggestions to help you integrate reflection into your busy day.

1. Be systematic
As Bruch and Ghoshal noted, many managers simply react impulsively to pressing matters. To avoid acting impulsively, complete this four-step thought sequence whenever you are required to make an executive decision:

  1. Take the time to reflect upon the present situation in relationship to your strategic intentions.
  2. Clearly state to yourself what you will do and why.
  3. Act on your clear intentions.
  4. Gather feedback. In due time, collect tangible and intangible outcomes of your actions and then feed the knowledge you’ve captured back into another purposeful reflection, in effect re-activating the cycle.
By honouring this sequence you will realize that purposeful reflection can occur even within the few short minutes required to respond to a pressing matter.

2. Isolate and manage “active non-action” traps
Instant communication devices such as personal digital assistants (PDAs) are useful tools. They can also become “Active Non-Action” traps by constantly pulling managers into tactical and interpersonal crisis resolution mode. Plan your day to avoid such traps.
  1. Always begin your day with a 10-minute meeting with yourself, during which you will reflect and identify your priorities.
  2. Plan to respond to emails and phone messages at a specific time and only after you’ve completed your meeting with yourself.
  3. Close each day with a short ritual during which you will reflect on your ability to complete your activities in alignment with your strategic priorities and your purpose.
3. Incorporate physical activity into your routine (and carry a recorder)
Plan to walk or exercise everyday, even if it’s just 10 minutes. The simple act of disengaging from the high-level activities around you will provide the mental space required to reflect. If you have a chance, seek inspiration in nature. I find my creative inspiration by simply walking and looking up at the powerful mountain scenery in banff, where I work. If you don’t work in the Canadian Rockies, don’t despair; one of my clients conceived a re-organization plan during a series of lunchtime walks in a city park. The activity allowed him to “come up with solutions without really thinking,” he said. He dictated into a recorder to capture his enlightened thinking.

Engaging in purposeful reflection is invaluable. It is a competency that all managers and leaders should strive to master for themselves – and for their organizations.

1 Bruch & Ghoshal , "The Busy Manager" Harvard Business Review, February, 2002

Download the PDF version of Integrating Purposeful Reflection and Performance.

This article was published in The Banff Centre's Leadership Compass, Summer 2007 issue.