Reflection is a powerful tool for us to use as leaders. Active reflection means becoming aware of our thoughts, feelings, fears, joys, perceptions. When we reflect actively, we learn about ourselves, others, and the situation. There are several different types of reflection, and one of them that is useful for me is anticipatory reflection.
When we use anticipatory reflection, we think about situations in advance and try to anticipate all the potential interactions, outcomes, and conversations we may encounter during that situation. A mentor of mine once shared this notion with me, and it took me a while to embrace it. I thought “how could I know all the potential interactions that may occur in this situation?” But, with a little practice, it became easier for me.
What is required when we want to use anticipatory reflection is a little prep time. Depending upon the situation, this could be several hours to as little as 3 minutes, depending upon the complexity of the situation. For example, if I am heading into a meeting where I am facilitating, I often spend about 20 minutes just prior to the meeting to prepare my mind, make a few notes, and get ready. This active reflection puts me into the future by just a bit and allows me to center and focus.
If there is a really difficult situation I anticipate, I may reflect on it for a week or so. Something like a major presentation, potentially contentious meeting, or a long overdue visit to a friend will require more anticipatory reflection.
Sometimes, though, my anticipatory reflection is very brief. I often reflect while walking to meetings. I consider who will be there, how I am feeling, my energy level, and how I want to present myself. Often, a minute or two is all it takes to gain clarity, remove any latent confusion from our minds, and be ready to lead.
Leadership can be thought of as a role to be played over and over again each day. And, with each different situation, we may play a slightly difference character. This is not contrived. It is natural. The notion of “this is just the way I am” doesn’t work so well as a leader because, as leaders, we adapt to the needs of others when we are doing our best work. Yes, we have some hard-wired traits, but spending time reflecting on who you will encounter, their needs and wants, the goals of the group, and your intent for the time together can facilitate more energy, effectiveness and engagement from others. This is the goal, isn’t it?
So, give it a try. Where are you going today? Tomorrow? Who will you encounter? And, how do you want to move things forward for yourself, the team, and the organization as a leader?