There is no Learning Without Reflection


We all know it’s important to learn and grow at work so that we perform better in our roles and responsibilities. When we first began our careers all we did was learn. We had very little work experience and needed to learn the basics of how to work in our new professions. Learning never stopped for us as we experienced many situations that forced us to refine our skills because feedback on our performance was readily available and immediate.

After many years of work we became masters at our jobs and found ourselves only getting better as we experienced new situations and interacted with our peers.  Now, learning only comes through frequent experiences and reflection with our peers. The experiences are always present as work-life never stands still, yet reflecting on them is both optional and a must for learning. Reflection requires us to stop, review, analyze, and draw conclusions. It’s not extremely hard to do but it takes discipline to step away from day-to-day activities and cycle through the recent experiences to glean some lessons learned.

Organizational leaders have a more difficult learning challenge than others. Their experiences involve the “big picture” perspective and systematic thinking. Feedback on their performance is not immediate or readily available. As a result, their reflection needs more time and seclusion to tweeze out the lessons learned and needed adjustments.

Compounding this problem is the fact that leaders find it very difficult to create this precious time to reflect. Countless daily issues and the stigma that secluded reflection is not real work are the main culprits in this situation. But, given that a leader’s most powerful influence on an organization’s success is making sure they’re heading in the right direction and doing the right things in the future, they certainly have a strong enough reason to create the required time and seclusion to reflect.

Ok, so let’s say you are able to carve out the time and find a secluded place away from disruptions. How can you make sure you get the most out of your time? Follow these simple steps:

  1. Review what you have experienced over the last several months and what keeps you up at night. Keep the “big picture” in mind here.
  2. Select an issue to ruminate on. This means you have to put some prioritization on your issues and only pick one.
  3. List all associated points of data. Don’t allow yourself to interject misinformation or partially validated information.
  4. Describe your judgments. Detail what you consider good or bad about the data and what pre-defined positions you’re holding tightly.
  5. Identify the root contributors. Look for the systemic influences that are at play.
  6. Draw a conclusion. Paint a big picture summary and make some decisions.
  7. State the lessons learned. These are the key points you will tuck away in your subconscious to draw upon later in similar scenarios.

After you have gone through this reflection process on several occasions you’ll find yourself craving these times and valuing the benefits you derive. You’ll also learn you can reflect in less secluded environments. Long drives and flights are great times to reflect. Arriving a day early or staying a day late on business trips are prime times for reflection too.

If all experiences were once-in-a-lifetime occurrences then taking time to reflect and learn would be wasteful. But the fact is, history repeats itself and many of our experiences return in new situations. Decisions made and actions taken by leaders have large dollar values associated with them. Being able to learn from experiences and perform better in similar future situations can save a company money, and more importantly, your career.