Both knowledge and experience are almost wasted without this last, most important ingredient if you want to grow as a leader. 

There is rarely anything wrong with ambition when someone takes on a leadership role. A leader is often (but of course not always) a person who thrives in a fast-paced environment with a lot of responsibility.

As a leadership developer, you'd think that's a pretty grateful position to be in. But despite all you invest in courses, books and plus subscriptions to Leadership Newsyou may find that much remains much the same.

We have compared being a being a leadership developer with being a gardener. A leader needs to be cultivated, watered and given some space in the sun. But the most important thing to make something grow is neither fertilizer nor a stay at a conference hotel; it's time.

Reflection is difficult from inside the hamster wheel

I remember a manager I worked with and supervised some time ago who, like many, had a super busy schedule. Rarely a day went by without him having at least two meetings to attend at the same time. 

This was far from an inexperienced manager, but life on the hamster wheel meant there was little time for reflection. So I set a requirement - twice a week he was to clear his calendar for half an hour and just go over what he spent his time on, how well it worked and what could be done differently.

He stood first on his hind legs: A full hour a week, when he already had far too few hours in the day, was hard to swallow! But after a month he came back, with much lower shoulders, and said that he had realized which of all the meetings were necessary - and which could be dropped.

Read also: Which leaders do you have in your greenhouse?

Time for reflection is key to growing as a leader

It's easy to think that we automatically learn from experience, but we actually don't. Unless we sit down and think about what we experienced and what we want to do differently in the future, we'll end up in exactly the same rut as before.

This is by no means unique to managers, but they are particularly vulnerable because their day-to-day lives are often so busy. It is therefore your job as a leadership developer to force the leaders on your staff to take a step back and think - no matter how much they have on their agenda.

Some questions it might be smart to ask are, for example:

  • What specific things do I want to do differently in my everyday life?
  • What kind of situations make me forget to follow up on my goals?
  • Is there any feedback I often get that I've dismissed?
  • What kind of traps do I tend to fall into when I'm on autopilot?
  • Is there something I'm spending a lot of time on that isn't producing results?

When we actively work on issues like this, we also become more aware of them outside of dedicated reflection time. Suddenly we're doing things differently, rather than just talking about it.

Learning mindset: Believe that change is possible!

But wait a minute! To succeed in reflecting on your own practice, it's important to believe that you're not stuck in the patterns you're currently stuck in. You've probably heard of fixed vs. growth mindset - or locked vs. learning mindset, if we're to show a little more national pride in our use of language. 

A learning mindset is simply an attitude that you can change if you want to. Even if we're completely shit at something today, we just need to practice. We may not be the best in the world, but it's worth it not to get better.

At the same time, it's about using your time wisely. If you want to become a good violinist, it's not enough to try your hand at the instrument or just play pieces you already know. You need to identify what you want to learn - that you don't know - and set aside time for (often boring) exercises. 

Think of reflection time as practicing scales on a regular basis - only then can managers step out on stage and get the very best out of their employees.

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