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The Value of Reflection

Brendan Hall not only skippered the winning yacht during the 2009-10 Clipper Round the World Race he is also the author of Mountbatten award shortlisted ‘Team spirit – Life and Leadership’. You could, therefore, say he’s a bit of an expert on leadership. In this blog post, he explains the real value of reflection in leadership.

 It’s easy…

…for us to look at other leaders and make observations and judgements about their performance, their leadership style, their values and the motivating effects of their approach.

We scrutinise behaviours, body language, tone of voice, technical competence and quickly come to a conclusion (too quickly in some instances) about whether this is a leader we, ourselves, would like to be led by.

It’s far harder to turn that telescope of insight around 180 degrees and look at ourselves as leaders– honestly, openly, warts and all. In fact, most leaders never undertake this kind of deep self-reflection in their professional lives. Inward examination reveals our cognitive biases, our inconsistencies and can open a Pandora’s Box of uncomfortable questions and difficult emotions.

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. 


“Reflection is fundamental to leadership”

However, reflection is fundamental to leadership. Great leaders know what makes them tick, what brings them satisfaction, why something frustrates them, how they manage failure, perceived unfairness and criticism, to name but a few.

They also know that the middle of the next round of merger negotiations, with people looking to them for leadership is not the time to be making these kinds of discoveries – the time is now.

In preparation for skippering a racing yacht around the world in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, I spent several weeks completing a programme of careful self-reflection. I thought deeply about why I did things the way I did them? Why I acted a certain way in leadership situations? Was it deliberate, or out of habit? Not every question had a clear answer and even when it did, it led to more questions. It was an enlightening, absorbing and uncomfortable process, but I wouldn’t have become the leader I was striving to be without it. I used several psychometric profiling tools, all currently in use at Ashridge, to create a cognitive framework and give structure to my intuitions.

No leader is perfect. We are all, to a large degree, a product of our life-experiences, most of which we don’t consciously choose. The value of reflection is becoming aware of the traits we’ve acquired on our journey and it’s only through developing that awareness that we can ascribe value or consciously decide to change.


You can begin your own reflective process with this exercise

Find somewhere quiet and distraction-free. Take 2 blank pages and title them:

  • What things about me are going to make me a great leader?
  • What things about me are going to stop me being a great leader?

Write 25 points underneath each. Answers at least one sentence in length. Be specific and give examples wherever possible.

The second question will take longer to answer. Be patient- It can take weeks. Be honest, don’t avoid uncomfortable areas, shine a light into every dark corner and be prepared for a surprise or two.

Thank you for taking the time to read our blog! If you have any questions feel free to contact us.

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Brendan Hall

Written by Brendan Hall

In 2010 I skippered the winning yacht in the Clipper Round the World Race, leading a team of 44 amateur sailors in a 10-month lap of the planet. It was a unique and formidable leadership challenge. Our overall victory came down to our high-performance team culture and my inclusive approach to leadership. I now help teams and leaders reach that same level of high performance and create a culture where their team will meet its potential. Using a combination of story-telling, coaching, experiential learning and practical, co-created interventions, I am a catalyst for meaningful organisational change.

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