How Self-Reflection Can Boost Leadership Performance

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As a small business leader, life can get really busy at times between meetings, customer care and leading your team of employees. It can be easy to fall into the trap of working on a hamster wheel without enough time to catch your breath let alone reflect on how you and your company are doing. Intentional self-reflection can help you and your team learn to work smarter instead of harder to make it easier to meet or exceed projections with your sanity intact.

Understanding the Self-Reflection Definition

Many small business leaders get so busy working in the business that they forget to work on the business and themselves. Self-reflection is when you intentionally step back from working in the business so that you can assess your own:

  • Strengths
  • Growth areas
  • Character
  • Motives
  • Processes
  • Values
  • Priorities
  • Emotions
  • Well-being 
  • Leadership abilities

Taking this time can seem frivolous when there are so many other time demands as leaders, but without it, your leadership abilities and business may suffer.

Self-Reflection Meaning and Benefits

For leaders, practicing self-reflection means intentionally setting aside the time to reflect on how things are going with you personally as a leader and in your business. If you wait for the time to appear, it never will, so scheduling this time and making it a habit is vital to your success. As Wayne Gretzky is famous for saying, "You miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take." Intentionally practicing self-reflection has many leadership benefits, including:

  • Increased motivation
  • Increased energy
  • Decreased levels of depletion
  • Awareness of blind spots
  • Awareness of strengths and growth areas
  • Clarity of purpose and goals 
  • Increased growth in leadership skills

These are all things that can help make it easier for you to reach your goals, maintain momentum and add security to your business for the long haul.

Self-Reflection Quotes to Internalize

Some of the greatest minds and leaders in history have intentionally practiced self-reflection, and it shows in their success. Understanding where you have been, where you are now and where you want to be makes it easier to make a plan to achieve your business dreams and nurture your team to do the same. Let some of these self-reflection quotes inspire you:

  • Michael Jordan: "I visualized where I wanted to be, what kind of player I wanted to become. I knew exactly where I wanted to go, and I focused on getting there."

  • Michelangelo: "The promises of this world are, for the most part, vain phantoms; and to confide in one’s self, and become something of worth and value is the best and safest course."  

  • Oprah Winfrey: "You cannot have a meaningful life without having self-reflection."

  • Eleanor Roosevelt: "Friendship with one's self is all-important because without it one cannot be friends with anyone else in the world."

  • Steve Maraboli: "Your greatest self has been waiting your whole life; don’t make it wait any longer."

Self-Reflection Questions to Consider

Self-reflection involves asking tough questions of yourself and putting intentional effort into answering those questions as honestly as you possibly can. It can be challenging to really get honest with yourself, but doing so can create powerful results as you continue to grow and learn in your small business. These 10 self-reflection questions might help get you started on your journey:

  1. What are my top three strengths?
  2. In what three areas do I need to grow?
  3. What am I doing that someone else could do better?
  4. What do I need to be at my best?
  5. What time of day am I most productive? 
  6. What is my leadership purpose and vision? 
  7. How am I celebrating accomplishments? 
  8. What is most essential?
  9. What trade-offs do I need to make?
  10. What is my leadership self-care plan? 

Self-Reflection: Learning to Dream

Sometimes, small business leaders become overwhelmed when they are living according to outside demands rather than according to what really matters to them. To the outside world, it looks like they are living their dream, but it might be that they are actually living someone else's dream for them. If you find that you have difficulty dreaming and understanding what you actually want, you are not alone.

Fortunately, it is possible for people to learn to dream again and to reclaim the power of choice in their lives and in their leadership. Over the next two weeks, make a practice of allowing yourself to dream in an undisturbed place for 10 to 20 minutes per day.

During this time of self-reflection, have the audacity to dream big dreams no matter what others might think, and allow yourself to believe that it is possible for those dreams to come true. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "A man becomes what he thinks about most of the time."

Self-Reflection: Finding Purpose

Having a strong purpose is often what gets successful leaders out of bed even on days when they'd rather hit snooze or forget the grind altogether. The very nature of business is that it has strong ups and downs, and leaders need a purpose to get them through those down times. This purpose does not have to explain the meaning of your life, but it does need to be something that excites you and makes you look forward to going to work each day.

Remember that you are allowed to change your mind about your purpose as you change and grow. That means that if you decide on a leadership purpose now, you can tweak it or scrap it as you engage in further growth and self-reflection. Some possible starting purpose statements include:

  • To become the best version of myself and inspire others to do the same
  • To improve my customers' lives and include my employees on the journey
  • To apply ethical principles to business and inspire a more ethical world
  • To model integrity in all I do and invite others to do the same
  • To share love, safety and freedom in every area of my business

Your purpose statement should ignite a fire in your belly and be something to which you can go back for motivation on days when you'd rather give up.

Self-Reflection: Vision Boards

When you have a clear purpose, your mission and vision are also likely to become more clear. Take time in self-reflection to brainstorm 50 to 100 things you would like to see happen in your small business and leadership.

For each item, ask yourself whether it is in line with your overall leadership purpose or not. If it is not in line with your purpose, it needs to go, and if it does not seem like a high point of contribution, it also needs to go. Narrow down your list until you arrive at a list of your top 10 goals in your leadership and small business.

Create an image for each of your top 10 goals using a photo app like Word Swag, Canva or PicMonkey. Have those images printed and then pin them to a cork board that hangs near your desk or work area. Put a star next to your top priority and then focus as much effort as possible toward that one priority until it is accomplished. Looking at your vision board and visualizing your success daily will activate your brain's reticular-activating system and make it easier and more natural to accomplish your goals.

Self-Reflection and Celebration Boards

Just like self-reflection can help you create a vision board of where you want to go in your leadership, it can also help you create a celebration board as a record of all the things you have already accomplished. When you are tempted to give up on your next big vision board goal, your celebration board will be there to cheer you on. As you accomplish the goals on your vision board, move them to another cork board that serves as your celebration board.

You can begin your celebration board right now by posting five things that have gone well for you in the past five years, no matter how big or small. Eventually, you will have an extensive record of things that have gone right in your business and in your leadership. As your celebration board fills up, you can move those images to a photo album. Then, when you need a bit of self-reflection time to get past a bump in the road, you can simply flip through the album and remember everything that has gone well for you.

Self-Reflection: Priorities and Scheduling

When your leadership self-reflection leads you to have a clear purpose, a sense of vision, a direction and a firm grasp on what matters, it impacts your priorities and scheduling. You are empowered to do things like:

  • Clear things off your schedule that do not contribute to your top priority
  • Bow out of commitments that are only slowing down progress
  • Create space to think, consider and plan
  • Practice a healthy work-life blend and model the same for your team
  • Focus on what you do best and delegate the rest
  • Seek outside help and resources
  • Mentor and guide your team to work in their strengths
  • Build a team that will get you where you are going
  • Cultivate habits and routines that put success on autopilot

Self-Reflection: Habits and Routines

Self-reflection is most helpful to leaders who make habits and routines that intentionally include it. Consider creating a morning routine like business pioneer Hal Elrod, who focuses on his "Life S.A.V.E.R.S." before the sun comes up:

  • S – Silence
  • A

– Affirmations V – Visualization E – Exercise R – Reading S

– Scribing 

Consider including things like meditation, prayer, leadership books, podcasts and journal prompts in your morning routine.

Create an evening routine that provides time for self-reflection and to prepare for the next day. You can take a few moments to think about one thing that went really well in your leadership and one thing you would do differently. Write down things for which you are thankful and grateful in your work life and then prepare for the next morning by setting out any materials and clothing you need for your morning routine.

Self-Reflection: Business Coaches and Mentors

If you are new to self-reflection or going through a rough patch in your personal or business life, you might find it helpful to work with a business coach or mentor. These professionals have been in your shoes and can offer objective feedback on your leadership and business plans as well as give you tools for more effective self-reflection and growth. Arrange to meet with your coach or mentor regularly, perhaps once every week or two.

Some of the benefits of business coaching or mentoring include:

  • Encouragement to get out of your comfort zone
  • New self-reflection and leadership tools
  • Constructive feedback
  • Learning how to mentor others
  • Stress reduction and time to process
  • Someone who understands you and your leadership
  • Increased self-awareness
  • Increased confidence and self-esteem
  • Strengthened leadership skills 

Your coach or mentor can walk you through the process of self-reflection, helping you learn to dream, find purpose, create vision, celebrate success and become the best leader you can be.