Essential reflection is an active, tenacious and meticulous assessment of any operational belief, behaviour, assumption or experience. In a general sense, essential reflection simply considers and challenges what we know and how we know it.
Essential reflection takes time, involves thought and can turn inward and focus on oneself. This focusing on oneself can be an uncomfortable experience for some individuals.
The ability to reflect on one’s experience, to integrate knowledge gained and to take action on insights is a significant path to wise leadership.
Essential reflection process
There are four basic activities used in the essential reflection process. Guidance is provided below on how to implement this process. The key to making this process work includes the depth of questions asked and the unconditional acceptance for the responses received. Acceptance does not necessarily mean agreement with the response. Freedom to express unconventional observations expands the available options.
1. Analysis of assumptions
The first step in the essential reflection process involves surfacing and challenging organisational beliefs, values, cultural practices, and social structures in order to assess their impact on day-to-day outcomes. Questions asked could include:
What do you know or believe about the company, issue, or each other?
Where did this knowledge or belief come from?
How does this assumption shape our business strategy or operations?
2. Analysis of bias
Assumptions are socially and personally created in specific historical and cultural contexts, as such and human beings tend to have unconscious bias. By recognising the importance of bias, wise leaders begin to see when and how to focus their efforts. Questions asked could include:
Where does the team align or disconnect?
How does this happen?
How did we create, promote or allow this to happen?
3. Imaginative speculation
Imagine alternative ways of approaching an issue in order to provide an opportunity to challenge prevailing ways of knowing and acting. Questions asked could include:
What if… were changed?
What if… we tried something different?
What if… we did nothing?
4. Reflective skepticism
Having the team question ‘organisational truth’ requires them to temporarily reject theories about what works and why it works. Questions asked could include:
What is really important right now?
What is not being said or censored?
What is not obvious about the data, information, knowledge or experience?
What data, information, knowledge or experience are we missing?
How you can deepen the process
Assumption and bias within the executive team often reside at an unconscious level. The job of an executive team leader is to ask questions that cause the team members to bring these unconscious items to conscious awareness. An executive team leader, who may have his or own assumptions and biases, has developed a level of awareness which allows them to clearly see the unconscious patterns at play.
An example of this would be ‘generally accepted operational principles’. Principles of operation often correspond to behaviours that team members think they should be doing, and actually believe that they are doing, but may not be doing fully. Human beings focus on the evidence that confirms their beliefs and tend to ignore evidence that contradicts these beliefs. This inconsistency doesn’t discredit the value of the behaviours, which may be producing profitable results.
Essential reflection challenges the team to articulate what they know and how they know it. Questions also help executive team members stop and reflect on the meaning that they attach to these operating principles. Knowing the meaning helps uncover any premature push for solutions and action.
Essential reflection should consider both feelings and thought. While action is critical, action that emerges from the space that includes thoughts, emotions, and imagination is more complete. Sometimes this reflection is a dialogue with team members and sometimes with oneself.
By uncovering what the team is doing, how they are doing it and the beliefs underlying all of this, leaders can make wiser decisions.
By Gregory Stebbins
Republished from the International Institute of Directors and Managers (IIDM) – www.iidm.com