No matter where you sit in your organisation, whether you are leading the administrative team, leading some junior lawyers or accountants, or leading the organisation as a whole, having conversations about performance, particularly when performances fall short of expectations, can be difficult. It can be both one of the most critical conversations you need to have, but also one of the most dreaded. People likely become defensive when they feel they’re being attacked.
As a leader, one of your roles is to provide such feedback. However, one of your more critical roles is to seek feedback about your own leadership.
“To be successful, learning must continue throughout life, beyond the completion of one’s formal education. The end of extrinsically applied education should be the start of an education that is motivated intrinsically. At that point, the goal of studying is no longer to make the grade, earn a diploma and find a good job. Rather, it is to understand what is happening around one, to develop a personally meaningful sense of what one’s experience is about.”
We love this quote by M. Csikszentmihalyi*. It accurately describes the importance of life long learning, beyond books and formal education.
It is important to put in place mechanisms for you to learn from your own experience, because quite often the most powerful lessons about leadership will come from those experiences. People learn more from their experiences when they spend time thinking about them.
One practical model put forward by Hughes, Ginnett and Curphy in Leadership— Enhancing the Lessons of Experience**, is the action-observation-reflection model. This model shows that leadership development is enhanced when the experience involves three different processes: action, observation and reflection. They know that if a person acts but does not observe the consequences of her actions or reflect on their significance and meaning, then it makes little sense to say, “She has learned from an experience.”
What is the action-observation-reflection model process?
In applying this model to specific decisions, you should go through the following processes:
- action— what did you do?
- observation— what happened? What were the results and the impact on others?
- reflection— how do you look at it now? How do you feel about it now?
Hughes, Ginnett and Curphy note that perhaps the most important, yet most neglected component of the action-observation-reflection model is reflection. Reflection is important because it can provide leaders with a variety of insights into how to frame problems differently, look at situations from multiple perspectives, or better understand subordinates. Their experience shows that most managers spend relatively little time on this activity.
Taking the time to sit and reflect on the possible consequences of your actions or to reflect on how something could have been achieved in a better way, can go a long way improving your leadership skills. Whilst we can argue at times that we don’t have time or that we are too busy, taking even just a few minutes to consider and reflect on the impact of decisions and how a particular action was received, will provide you with the foundation to make better decisions in the future. It will also, on a practical level, demonstrate to your team and your organisation that you have reflected, particularly if it may have been a bad decision or a bad outcome and that you’ve worked to ensure that similar decisions are not made again.