Reflective Thinking: The Forgotten Leadership Practice

One of the most healthy practices a leader can engage in is reflective thinking. Reflective thinking is the habit of processing what you learn in preparation for application. It is often the forgotten leadership practice.

Reflective thinking is, for the most part, very unnatural, especially for leaders, high-achievers, or dominant personality types. These individuals are “doers” and rarely have a spare minute. Consequently, setting aside think time is perceived as a waste of time. Activity is seen as the key to accomplishment, and while there is truth to that statement, there is also an inherent danger. Without reflective thinking you can easily do many things–wrong. Business author and leadership philosopher Peter Kostenbaum noted:

Reflection doesn’t take anything away from decisiveness, from being a person of action. In fact, it generates the inner toughness that you need to be an effective person of action–to be a leader. Think of leadership as the sum of two vectors: competence (your specialty, your skills, your know-how) and authenticity (your identity, your character, your attitude). When companies and people get stuck, they tend to apply more steam–more competence–to what got them into trouble in the first place: “If I try harder, I’ll be successful,” or “If we exert more control, we’ll get the results we need.”

Kostenbaum argues that you must change your “habits of thought.” Reflective thinking enables you to do just that and gives you the perspective to do a few things right–extraordinarily right.

As unnatural as it might seem, I challenge you to embrace the forgotten leadership practice of reflective thinking. Set aside regular time to reflect on what you are learning, how God is challenging you through Scripture, your ministry or organizational practices, your personal disciplines, and your overall direction. Don’t get stuck “applying more steam” to worn out ways of thinking. Doing so will only thrust you into irrelevance at greater speed.

Stop. Reflect. Process. There’s usually plenty of time to act. Reflective thinking helps you do so with clarity, excellence, and precision.