Lead from Within: Paying Attention to the Space Inside

If someone asked you to describe your “inner self”, how would you respond? Would you stay silent, be confused, feel irritated, begin to babble or simply ignore the question? In many ways it is extraordinarily strange, yet extraordinarily common that we resist taking the time to understand and reflect on the innermost workings of the one person that we should all know the most intimately –ourselves!

In one of James Joyce’s short stories in “The Dubliners” he describes a character thus:

“Mr. Duffy lived a short distance from his body.”


Mr. Duffy would come across as a “hollow man”, he is a disembodied character. Yet, without inner reflection, how would he ever know?

Executive coach, Jennifer Porter, writes that leaders have many reasons for avoiding self-reflection:

  • They don’t understand the process.
  • They don’t like the process or the results.
  • They are action-oriented and time is of the essence.
  • The ROI isn’t clear.
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In her well-researched article, Olenda Johnson PhD. describes the What, Why and How of reflection for leadership. Self-reflection (also referred to as critical reflection, reflection and reflective practice) has been described as having four components- cognitive, integrative, iterative and active.
“…..reflection is the intentional habit of creating space to think in order to pursue clarity of thought, learn from experiences, and proactively advance ideas.”

Some of the qualities that are strengthened in leaders from deliberate reflection are:

  • Self-awareness, empathy and cultural competency.
  • Deeper processing of complex problems and more effective decision-making.
  • Building and sustaining cognitive and emotional energy.

Professor Johnson presents a strong case for taking reflection out of an optional, unstructured and nebulous arena into one that is perceived as fundamental for effective leadership.

By clearly informing ourselves as to the what and why and identifying our specific barriers, we can move on to the how.

  • Schedule dedicated time, however short.
  • Choose a forum that works for us as individuals- in solitude, with a professional or with others.
  • Ground ourselves. Mindfulness or other meditation, yoga, walking, etc.
  • Create specific questions to guide our reflective time e.g. What can I learn from this situation? What is the impact on me and others of this situation?
  • Use specific tools such as writing or mind mapping.
  • Be mindful and stay curious, open-minded and non-judgmental.

Reflection: What could you learn if you stepped away from all your doing and began to truly Lead from Within.

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