Why Self-Reflection Is the Key to Effective Leadership

Why Self-Reflection Is the Key to Effective Leadership

Learn why self-refection is fundamental to effective leadership. To expand our leadership skills, we must know our strengths and weaknesses, and how we influence others.

The practice of self-awareness and self-reflection for those in leadership roles goes back thousands of years to the ancient philosophers and teachers. Yet, it seems that self-reflection is the manager’s least favourite pastime.

By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest. – Confucius

In this guest post by Jacqui Spencer, we learn why self-refection is the key to effective leadership. If we are to strengthen our leadership skills, then we must be aware of our strengths and weaknesses, our values and behaviours, and the ways in which we attempt to influence others.

In other words, self-awareness and self-reflection is about learning to understand our leadership style.

So, you think you need a leadership coach? Read this first.


I was working with a senior leader recently in an attempt to help him adjust to working with his new CEO. It was an interesting assignment as it had gone from me being engaged to help him and his leadership team with a new strategic framework to a one-on-one reflection exercise.

I was particularly intrigued by the level of impact this new CEO appeared to have had on a leader I had known for a couple of years. This confident, self-directed, successful leader was asking questions that were very much focused on trust, relationships, engagement. But not on how he and his leadership team could drive the department forward with a sound strategy for future growth, or what co-creation and collaboration would look like.

It became clear that this shift to a new CEO was creating some anxiety at very senior levels. Not because there had never been a new CEO before, but because this new CEO was asking different kinds of questions. Although my client wasn’t in full-blown self-doubt mode, he had definitely started that journey.

I suggested that now was a good time for self-reflection; that is, before he starts to think about moving forward, perhaps he should glance backwards. I suggested the simple exercise of writing himself a letter, addressed to his younger self, just as he was starting out on his career path. The letter should give his younger self advice on how to be a great leader based on what he knows today.

This was probably not the best match between client and proposed solution as he struggled a little to understand what I was after, so I moved on to another idea which was a better match.

However, on returning home, I decided to find the leadership reflection letter I had written when I was in a leadership position. I found it in my home office and I sat down and read it.

To me, this remains the best exercise I ever did on personal reflection not because it demonstrated the power of memories but because it made me appreciate what it was like to be me and how lucky I was.

Even several years later it still had the same effect on me, and my advice to those of you somewhere on a leadership journey is take time out and write yourself a letter and every now and again read it. Trust me, it will be better than any one-on-one session you will have with a paid consultation or coach.

Here’s mine… when you read it, I hope you see what I mean.

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