Is your goal for the week to plow through your email and to-do list? While being goal-oriented is generally helpful, laser focus on a checklist can result in forgoing the larger impact of seeing and doing the right things.
Head of sales for a 7,000-person, manufacturing company, Larry’s legendary productivity earned him the nickname, “The Machine.” His daily yield of items outstripped the contributions of other team members. Yet one day, Larry’s CEO confronted him with a moment of reckoning. In his singular focus on getting things done, Larry had undermined multiple big-picture efforts. While many team members were struggling with the Covid-19 pandemic and transition to remote work, he pressured them to toughen up and double down, threatening “changes” if results didn’t follow. In his rush to close new prospects, he had short-changed a current customer. He missed a key market indicator while heads down on the daily deliverables.
Larry realized he needed to reset. During coaching sessions, we discussed the importance of periodically zooming out to gain perspective and create space for reflection. Larry needed a broader view of his impact on his team and the bigger trends and strategic shifts affecting the business. Several of his relationships with co-workers were on shaky ground because of his single-minded focus on delivering more tangible results. He would have to adjust his habitual pattern of immediate action to allow for sustained reflection.
The blank spaces in written communication are critical to understanding; similarly, the space created when we stop acting and start reflecting is essential to big picture comprehension. We have to create this space. It doesn’t automatically present itself. Any of the following four types of reflective activities can help you reclaim your perspective. Choose a mode (or two) of reflection best suited to your desired outcome.
1. Learning. Reflect on a significant event that occurs each week using these questions: a) what was the situation; b) what was my role; c) what am I learning; and d) how will I apply my insights going forward? This pause in the action provides space to process a significant event and introspect for personal insights before the specifics recede in the rearview mirror. One of my clients has a leadership development program where I coach groups of six people for ten months. Utilizing this weekly format, participants experience new realizations, share the results of their reflections with peers, and benefit from replaying the action from additional vantage points.
2. Planning. Review each week’s entire activities and plan for the following week using these prompts: a) successes last week; b) failures last week; c) distractions last week; d) lessons learned; e) priorities for this week. This template keeps you accountable to your biggest priorities while highlighting smarter future objectives based on lessons learned.
3. Habit changing. If you’ve repeatedly tried to break the same bad habit or adopt a healthy one, consider a fact-based approach instead of revisionist history. Use a Yes List to track