Reflective leadership 

Reflective leadership is something relatively new to me as a formal concept, I have over the years thought about my own personal leadership skills so maybe in hindsight I was being reflective? One of the best ways of describing reflective leadership is from a web article I discovered whilst researching this narrative.

Reflective leadership is a way of approaching the work of being a leader by leading one’s life with presence and personal mastery. Learning to be present, to be aware and attentive to our experience with people throughout the day is the focus of reflective leadership.”
(Sara Horton-Deutsch, 2013)

It struck me that taking a personal leadership journey, one of self-awareness and self-challenge adds a whole new dimension to the way in which I have reflected on my leadership and engagement with colleagues in the past. I was reminded of situations where I had adopted a more direct approach where, on reflection, it required more collaboration; a bitter pill to swallow in many respects.

What interests me about being a reflective leader is it moves you from an “action bias” to a more reflective and collaborative approach one where you are constantly in a cycle of learning; effective leaders reflect on their past experiences and search for relevant, different insights before the decision making process. (Goker & Bozkus, 2017) Some of the questions you might ask yourself:

  1. What have I learnt?
  2. What were my feelings and thoughts as it was happening?
  3. How could I explain my experience?
  4. How could I make use of learning for my future actions?
  5. What is your opinion of way I felt and acted?
  6. How have I reacted and behaved?

“Reflective leadership can be considered as a way of approaching the work of being a leader by leading one’s life with presence and personal mastery. In other words, it requires learning to be present, to be aware and attentive to our experience with people in our daily life, and it regards leadership from the standpoint of human experience.”
(Goker & Bozkus, 2017)

So the journey has to start with a series of self- assessments, in my own personal experience I often look forward, look back and ask myself, is where I am  where I want to be? If the answer is yes then great you must be a great leader…but I suspect, as is with my journey the answer and reflection meant I needed to improve.

The question remains: how is being a reflective leader linked to engagement? I think the short answer is it’s a critical part of the whole process. One model sticks out for me developed by (Taggart GL, 2005). ‘One of the first steps to reflective thinking involves identifying a problem, challenge, or dilemma. Next, step back from the problem and look at the situation from a third person perspective in order to frame or reframe the problem. Ask yourself: How might an outsider view this situation? This second step involves observation, data gathering, reflection, and consideration of moral principles. These aspects help to provide a mental picture of your thinking in an attempt to define the context of the situation.’

Reflective leadership coveys a sense and practical application of collaboration, it involves listening and learning from the experience and from others.

“As a reflective leader, share your reflective thoughts with others and invite them to consider things as well. Enter into relationships with others without presenting a front or pretense, but instead being self-aware, this type of real and genuine approach supports an even playing field and conveys that I value other persons and their contributions.”
(Sara Horton-Deutsch, 2013)

I believe that engagement must start with reflection simply so that both parties or at the very least the leader in the conversation has the presence of mind to understand the discussion as a whole and listens without judgement or predetermination; mindful of their responses and open to the process whilst active and fully present in the moment. By considering your experience, their experience and reflecting before a decision, you help to build a collaborative environment and nurture mutual respect in that’s instance and hopefully, as you become a more reflective leader, those future opportunities to engage with your people.

Written by:
Richard Louw, Senior Officer, Border Force and Virtual Content Team Volunteer


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Goker, S. D., & Bozkus, K. (2017). Reflective Leadership: Learning to Manage and Lead Human Organizations, Contemporary Leadership Challenges,. In Aida Alvinius (Ed.)Ph.D., Contemporary Leadership Challenges (p. Chapter 2). https://www.intechopen.com/books/contemporary-leadership-challenges/reflective-leadership-learning-to-manage-and-lead-human-organizations.

Sara Horton-Deutsch, P. C. (2013, February). Thinking it through: The path to reflective leadership. American Nurse Today, Vol 8 no 2. Retrieved from American Nurse TOday.

Taggart GL, W. A. (2005). Promoting Reflective Thinking in Teachers. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press.

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