Whenever a leader finishes any major project someone will inevitably ask, “How did it go?” The question may receive an enthusiastic, “It was great,” or a less hopeful, “Not so well.”
Most effective leaders will conduct some type of formal, or informal, evaluation of a major event, project or initiative for the sake of celebrating wins and learning from missteps.
Both practices have their place, but have you considered reflective thinking as a leadership discipline? Leadership author and coach John Maxwell says, “Experience is not the best teacher; evaluated experience is the best teacher. Reflective thinking is needed to turn experience into insight.”
What is reflective thinking? One writer defines it as the “consideration of the larger context, the meaning, and the implications of an experience or action.” Reflective thinking involves looking back over a past activity and asking yourself some honest and helpful questions to learn and grow through the process.
What experiences and activities merit reflection from today’s Christian leaders?
1. Reflect on preaching and speaking: Those of us who preach and speak often will evaluate the experience based on the comments, or lack of comments, from one or two people. What if instead we asked some questions such as, “What was clear, what was unclear, what seemed to rouse attention, where did I lose attention, where did I stumble, or what did not go as expected?” The five minutes invested in reflecting over a sermon preached or a speech delivered will likely make us more impactful communicators.
2. Reflect on meetings: If you lead any type of meeting, whether it be with Deacons, Committees, or a Task Force, you will do well to reflect on your own conduct—as well as that of others—once the meeting is finished. “How was my behavior in that meeting? What did I contribute?” are good questions to gauge whether we demonstrated the fruit of the Spirit. Asking, “Where was there silence in the meeting and what could the silence indicate?” might unearth an area that people are reluctant to bring up but is important to the project.
3. Reflect on time with family: Given that the average smartphone user has a smaller attention span than a goldfish, we would each do well to reflect on time spent with our own family. “Did I check emails and texts while eating or watching entertainment with my family?” can be a helpful question. “Did my listening and interaction demonstrate respect and love for those I care about most?” may be helpful to improve familial relationships.
4. Reflect on personal struggles: If you fall victim to an ongoing temptation, it would be wise to reflect on the circumstances of the struggle. “Where am I when this temptation comes?” can be a helpful way of isolating the attack of the enemy and assuring greater success in resisting him in the future.
5. Reflect on social media and electronic communication: I have a friend who will re-read his text messages from the previous day to better understand how he communicated with others. This discipline has allowed him to apologize when necessary and clarify when needed.
Experience can be a great teacher, but reflective experience is an even greater one. What categories of reflective thinking would you add to this list?