‘What is the best leadership training?’ is a question I get asked a lot. But when I dig a little deeper to understand the full requirements, I am often met with an ‘Oh I don’t have time to do that’ type response. Which has led me to reconsider that the question I’m really being asked is more along the lines of:

What is the most impactful piece of leadership development that I can undertake in the shortest amount of time?

If this sounds familiar? And more importantly, if this is a question that you would like the answer to, then read on… because I’ll let you in on a secret.

Do you really want it?

OK, so life is busy. We’re all rushing around trying to fit everything into the limited amount of time that we have each day. But here’s the thing, if we want something badly then we make time for it. So the first question to ask ourselves is, ‘do we really want to improve our management skills?’

Leadership can be a vast, hazy subject – we know we want to be better at it, but we don’t quite know what that means. Which aspect of leadership should we focus on first?

While I don’t want to belittle the complexities of leadership development – and there are many – I would suggest that many people’s desire to improve their leadership skills can be boiled down into a simple desire to be ‘better at their job.’

Obviously, there are many drivers behind why you might want to be better at your job – increased earning potential, promotional aspirations, etc., etc. but in the main, put simply most people I speak to want to better at their job.

Make time to sharpen the saw

So we’ve established that we really do want it, and now, in the words’ of the late, great Stephen Covey we have to make time to ‘sharpen the saw.’ For those of you who aren’t familiar with Covey, he is the author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, which sold over 25 million copies and is widely regarded as one of the most inspiring and impactful books ever written.

And if you haven’t yet read Covey’s book, don’t worry – here is a link to a brilliant video that animates the entire book. The video is 6 minutes long, but I guarantee that it is a worthwhile investment of your time.

Covey’s 7th habit is all about making time to ‘sharpen the saw’. The video uses a great analogy about trying to cut down a tree with a blunt saw. Why would anyone do that? Well, because sharpening the saw would take some extra time, so instead they just get on with it, in the hope that the blunt saw gets them there eventually (spoiler: it doesn’t!). We can all see the pointlessness of that task, yet many of us don’t see the importance of sharpening our own saws. Many of us are leading and managing with metaphorically dull blades.

So I think you get my drift; if we’re serious about improving our skills, we need to make the time to do so. Whether it’s 5 minutes each day, 15 minutes each week, do whatever works for you, but make sure you schedule in the time, just as you would schedule in time for a meeting – it will prove to be a wise investment in your future career.

What next?

OK, we’ve agreed we really want this, and we’ve found the time to do it, but what can we possibly achieve in just 5 minutes a day? Well, we can achieve quite a lot in the 1,825 minutes each year that we’ve just allocated to our professional improvement (that adds up to almost a whole working week!) – as long as we think about it. And that’s just it, the golden ticket that I’m sharing with you:

the secret that hundreds of successful business leaders have shared with me, is the power of thought, or self-reflection to be precise.

What is self-reflection?

Self-reflection allows you the time and the space to spend 5 minutes reflecting upon your actions that day. We need to ask ourselves two simple questions:

What went well today?

And what didn’t go as well?

And then we need to delve a little deeper to understand why things went so well. What part did we play? What learning can we take away for future reference? And of course, we also need to look a bit more closely at what could have been improved upon. How well did that conversation actually go? Could we have better got our point across?

According to the CIPD, reflecting on your learning enables you to think about how you’ll use new knowledge and skills in your future activities. Quite simply, we need to continuously ask ‘what did I learn from this?

Different methods can be used for self-reflection:

  • Self-reflection can simply involve you taking 5 minutes at the end of each working day to ask and answer the above questions in your head.
  • Some people find that keeping a reflective work diary or journal is an easy way to get started and can also be a good way of keeping a note of learning points for future reference.
  • If you need a bit of help getting started, try asking your line manager or a more experienced colleague to review a particular situation with you. A fresh and more experienced pair of eyes will often see a situation differently and may offer up some new approaches or techniques to try in the future.

And when you get the hang of self-reflection, you can always progress to a peer group review. Having others’ thoughts about your experience can help you draw more out from the experience.

Ultimately, self-reflection will become a routine part of working life that is more or less instinctive. If you see learning as an intrinsic part of your job, you don’t have to interrupt your work to do it.

Share your thoughts?

I hope you’ll join hundreds of successful managers and start using self-reflection in your working life. And of course if you do, I’m confident that it will help you become better at your job, improve your management skills, and ultimately supercharge your leadership career. And we’d love to hear how you get on, so why not drop us a line or get in touch via Twitter.

Jo Riley, Director of LMW

Over the past ten years, I have met with hundreds, if not thousands, of incredibly successful business leaders and managers.
I meet with them to find out one thing: to gain an understanding of the secrets of their success. What drives them, motivates them and makes them tick? Quite simply, how did they get to where they are today?
While the answers I have been given are different for each individual, over the years there have been several consistent themes. I share those themes and secrets in my blogs, so you can learn from the best, to help you supercharge your leadership and management career.

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