Looking back to move forwards: A guide to effective leadership reflection and development planning - Quick reads - Gateley
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Looking back to move forwards: A guide to effective leadership reflection and development planning

Kiddy & Partners

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As we hurtle towards the end the year (and decade) many of us will take a moment to reflect on the past year and make some New Year resolutions.  

But despite the tradition of resolutions going back to the ancient Babylonians, after 4,000 years of practice we’re still pretty poor at making effective resolutions.  Reportedly, 80% of resolutions fail by February. [1]

This is a problem for business leaders, since evidence shows that reflection on past performance is critical to future success – those that do reflect tend to improve, those that don’t are at risk of derailing. [2] [3] But reflecting on our performance and identifying what to do about it is easier said than done.

How can leaders use feedback and reflection to make resolutions that will actually improve their performance?

Reflection for development requires more than just casual introspective thinking about events and experiences at work, it needs systematic thinking leading to deep-level insight. [4]

Research  also reveals some obvious flaws in the way people typically make resolutions:

•    35% of people who failed their New Year's Resolutions admitted they had unrealistic goals
•    33% didn't keep track of their progress
•    23% forgot about them
•    around 10% realised they made too many resolutions.

Based on our work with senior leaders over the past 50 years, here are some of the common mistakes to be avoided, and our recommendations for helping leaders to make resolutions that translate into business impact.

Recommendations on how to avoid common mistakes:

1. Many leaders focus on the wrong things

The way people perceive their capability and make sense of performance feedback is often biased. ‘Confirmation bias’ means that we look for evidence to support what we want to, or already. believe. A study revealed, for example, that high performing doctors (those who tended to provide more accurate diagnoses) learn from feedback on both their successes and failures, whereas lower performers focus primarily on their successes, resulting in a downward cycle of poor performance. Consequently, it’s essential that senior leaders base their resolutions (and ongoing development objectives) on independent feedback which includes both strengths and development areas, based on an objective assessment of their current capability.

2. Leadership success is context-dependent

Therefore, feedback and reflection must be anchored in your business context – to be effective leaders must develop the specific capabilities required to navigate the challenges presented by their specific business context and strategy. This makes developing a clear Leadership Strategy an essential foundation of leadership development, to define the mindsets and skill-sets demanded by the challenges of your own business context, and then help leaders to identify the gaps between this and their current performance or capability.

3. The road to under-performance is paved with good intentions

Making changes to the way you lead is difficult, so provide coaching to help leaders translate intentions into reality. The evidence speaks for itself: combining feedback with individual coaching increases leadership effectiveness up to 60%.

Essential leadership lessons

Caesar named the first month of a new year after Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and transitions, but for business leaders these days the pace of change means that each week brings new challenges. This makes providing leaders with robust feedback data and coaching, to extract critical leadership lessons, essential in order to improve their future capability. It means that feedback, reflection, and resolutions should not just be for Christmas!


[1] US News, www.health.usnews.com/health-news/blogs/eat-run/articles/2015-12-29/why-80-percent-of-new-years-resolutions-fail 29 Dec 2015

[2] Lombardo & Eichinger (2000). High potentials as high learners. Human Resource Management, 39, 321–330.

[3] DeRue & Wellman (2009). Developing Leaders via Experience: The Role of Developmental Challenge, Learning Orientation, and Feedback Availability. Journal of Applied Psychology, 94(4), 859-875.; McCall & Lombardo (1983). What makes a top executive? Psychology Today, 17, 26–31.

[4]Nesbit (2012). The Role of Self-Reflection, Emotional Management of Feedback, and Self-Regulation Processes in Self-Directed Leadership Development. Human Resource Development Review, 11(2), 203–226.

[5] finder.com.au, "Bunch of failures or just optimistic? finder.com.au New Year's Resolution Study shows New Year novelty fizzles fast - finder.com.au". 29 December 2014.


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