Sep 15

The Importance of Self-Reflection

Stephan Polomski
Stephan Polomski is a business coach, consultant and trainer specializing in leadership and organisation development.

My key finding: we as society execute excellent research based leadership studies, know about excellent theoretical leadership models and communication methods and consider best practice examples of leadership we observe or hear about. Out of history and current research, basically, our societies know everything valuable about this very topic. Our whole knowledge of how to lead – groups, communities, companies and even the worldwide connected society – we melt into the best available leadership university programs, professional education and trainings of different schools and approaches – - and still, worldwide on the one hand, and on the other hand in our nearest environment, we perceive countless cases of mere and dreadful failure.

Many leaders do not take a true responsibility of their role. What those leaders often seek is personal enrichment and enlargement of their personal comfort zone and security. They also buy people if they find out that they do not follow – a bit more money, a bigger car, some gratification etc.

Does that mean there is subtle corruption; there are mercenaries on the other side? I believe this is a fact one both sides widely practiced and accepted around the world. Let´s face it: this is part of our practiced value system when it comes to leadership. It is real. Personal profit is real.

So, why is this? – It is human nature, a part of it.

Frankly speaking, I am shocked of how the easiest findings of common sense are neglected. That not only coachees and mentees but coaches and managers themselves do not follow the models and methods they learned.

Certainly, ego-driven leadership does not need credibility and trust. It does not even need management skills to drive a company towards a vision; it does not even need a vision, a strategy. A day-to-day business seeking for the opportunity of the moment is sufficient: management by surprise, establishing a reign of uncertainty.

And what exactly is it, that I would label this failure?

Failure for me is: you lose your customers and you lose your employees. Bad business results, bad engagement surveys. This is simple to indicate. Figures can proof. Everybody believes this is rock solid.

But what about leaders and companies, who are financially successful, like Deutsche Bank or BP or the German electricity industry? Companies and leaders who bread a community of mercenaries and strong lobbies behind? This leadership creates many followers. Profit gains are their absolution. Trust the figures. It must be good and righteous.

How do we measure failure here, on the basis of which value system, which approach? Invited by whom to do so – especially in times where statesmen and –women and democracies tend to be “rotten” as well. – “Rotten” the famous quality Shakespeare´s Hamlet attributes to the rule of his kingdom.

The only thing possible in my eyes is to bring in the own moral courage to stand up for one´s own beliefs and thus make a difference which might disturb current habits and comfort zones of the mainstream.

This is the only way I can take care here, acting differently.

And in order to do so, I utterly need self-reflection and development as a leader.

When I as a leader apply self-reflection I have to check on a meta-level my attitude and inner state, I have to consciously perceive and I have to interact with full awareness.

This is a lot required, if you are in the middle of a group process, crisis or conflict.

However, self-reflection alone and with a sparring-partner is – in my eyes – the only way to a balanced, sustainable, integrative and thus successful leadership towards all parties involved: customers, employees, shareholders and – last but not least – society.

Successful leaders reflect themselves because they know that only authentic interaction does really move the people they lead, which means, that authenticity is the first key to unlash engagement and potential.

“1. Successful leaders reflect themselves because they know that only authentic interaction does really move the people they lead, which means, that authenticity is the first key to unlash engagement and potential.”

In order to get authenticity a leader must reflect himself or herself via feedback on how his or her daily actions mirror congruence in between role, attitude and personality. Without congruence here leaders send double signals which produce an impression of manipulation, lie and mistrust. – And this is why all studies, models and methods fail here, if leaders do not undergo the pain of self-reflection, self-management and self-directed learning in order to work on their leadership style.

Successful leaders develop their personality – as first tool of their leadership-style – their attitude and philosophy together, as well as clarity in their role and their competency of methods during an ongoing process of interaction, supervision and self-reflection.

“2. Successful leaders develop their personality – as first tool of their leadership-style – their attitude and philosophy together, as well as clarity in their role and their competency of methods during an ongoing process of interaction, supervision and self-reflection.”

Only if these elements form an integrated unity within the person of the leader, their positive influence on people and corporate culture can unfold. Lacking the willingness to undergo the process of feedback loops and self-reflection means not to be mature enough to face learning and change in one´s personal attitude. Having a life purpose, values and vision is crucial for successful leadership. If I am not ready to reflect and change my own personal system, how can I possibly expect to change a corporate system in the middle of business? However, some leaders think, they can.

Successful leaders face positively not only personal but also external double binds or dilemmas. They show a high level of tolerance towards frustration, because they reflect themselves and their role and also because they have a clear personal navigation system on hand: their life purpose, their values and their vision.

“3. Successful leaders face positively not only personal but also external double binds or dilemmas. They show a high level of tolerance towards frustration, because they reflect themselves and their role and also because they have a clear personal navigation system on hand: their life purpose, their values and their vision.”

Leaders need to be predicable for customers, employees, shareholders and society. Stakeholders must be able to rely on their actions. They must be able to rely on the fact that leaders are really and definitely in the lead: knowing themselves, knowing their personal purpose and values – because they reflect themselves. That encloses – on this solid basis of a defined and clear personal leadership model – the ability to take decisions accepted and followed by others. Hence, it encloses a high level of social competency as well. And this means to having command on personal standing and dealing positively with own emotions and the emotions of others.

All three requirements will only work, if leaders apply self-reflection.

If self-reflection starts, research, theories, models, methods, programs, education and trainings will have an impact that the leader as human being changes himself positively and thus his environment and, then, some rare times, even the world.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 15th, 2010 at 21:55 and is filed under Human Resources, Leadership, Management. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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