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
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
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
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
- Take the time to reflect upon the present situation in relationship
to your strategic intentions.
- Clearly state to yourself what you will do and why.
- Act on your clear intentions.
- 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.
3. Incorporate physical activity into your routine (and
carry a recorder)
- Always begin your day with a 10-minute meeting with yourself,
during which you will reflect and identify your priorities.
- Plan to respond to emails and phone messages at a specific
time and only after you’ve completed your meeting with yourself.
- 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.
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
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.
Bruch & Ghoshal , "The Busy Manager" Harvard Business
Review, February, 2002
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version of Integrating Purposeful Reflection and Performance
This article was published in The
Banff Centre's Leadership Compass, Summer 2007 issue.