The Art of Reflection - part 2
What is reflection?
Given the role of reflection in coaching (and leadership) as the secret sauce that makes a key difference to the value of the coaching, what is it, actually?
First of all, reflection after a coaching session, or after a learning experience between sessions, is space for enquiry, to build on the content of the coaching session or the experience, to surface more of what you’re curious about and what you’ve learnt. It’s a chance to step back from the coalface of daily working life and from the detail of the question, the challenge or the issue that you might be bringing as a leader to your coaching. It’s space to consider additional perspectives that you might not have thought of to begin with. Stimulated by the coaching session or the experience, it’s space to be with the challenges, to allow the time for new thoughts and ideas to emerge at their own pace, and with the richness that can come when pressure is absent.
And secondly, it’s time to be with yourself, just you and you, with the ease to allow thoughts and intuitions to surface – thoughts and intuitions that can hide when we’re caught up in the busyness and noise of doing, but which can be signposts to what doing, and what kind of doing, actually matter. They can help us make sure that we’re focusing on the appropriate things, at the appropriate time, with appropriate people.
What’s in reflection?
While it includes the recall of events, in effective reflection that recall is supplemented by curious exploration and enquiry into why things happened the way they did: what were the messy bits, the puzzling bits, the successful bits? What behaviours, and on whose part? What values? What assumptions and beliefs? Who do the participants in the situation take themselves to be: what’s their sense of identity?
What influence did you as leader have – knowingly or unknowingly – on the situation? What choices did you have – again, knowingly or unknowingly? What might have been alternative ways of approaching the situation? How reflective were you in the moment?
Perspectives of complexity
The scope of reflection to open up the perspectives of complexity – the interdependencies, the variety of stances you could take, the embracing of different views, the attachments you might have to ideas or beliefs, the ways you used your power (and where that power resided), the experiments you put in place as you found your way through complexity, step by step – is invaluable. As is the constant enquiry into what you’re curious about at any given moment.
Reflection allows us to become aware of our selves at a new level, of our options, our possibilities and our responsibilities. It applies to the fulfilment of leadership as much as it does to coaching.
And very importantly, it’s a space where we can distil what we’ve actually learnt, what change we want to create from that learning, and what we become aware of that’s changed or changing.
A complement to coaching sessions
It’s a necessary complement to coaching sessions, which can only ever be part of the learning and development story, and not the whole story. Reflection is part of the engagement that the leader needs to bring if they’re to get much, let alone much that’s sustainable, out of their coaching. I have worked with clients who wanted to squeeze in their coaching in a short space between one meeting and another, and then forget about it till the next session. With clients who looked to me to find their solutions for them without investing any of their own thought or commitment. With clients who wanted solutions and outcomes before they’d engaged at all in any enquiry into what was actually going on. None of them engaged in meaningful reflection, and none created any meaningful change from their coaching.
An indulgence or a necessity?
Clients have said to me that both the coaching and the reflection felt self-indulgent, which has intrigued me. Can it be that they feel guilty about the time they took to enquire into what’s happening for them and their teams, and thus how development, transformation and improvements can be shaped? If the answer is ‘yes’, that prompts me to reflect on what messages our organisational cultures are giving about expected behaviours – but that’s for another blog.
See The Art of Reflection part 1 for more on reflection and engagement.