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Your Leadership, Your Reflective Practice

Your Leadership, Your Reflective Practice

August 24, 2016

This is an abridged version of a blog post published by Exponent Philanthropy last month.

I had a hunch: If everyone in a room reflects on their practice, especially the practices they turn to when stymied somewhere between intent and outcome, something good and potentially powerful would result.

By practice, I mean the tools and skills one uses to have difficult conversations, move ideas along, work across the boundaries of different systems and bring one’s best assets and manage one’s worse behaviors in service of a task. We all have good and bad ways of reflecting on ourselves, but largely they are invisible to others — sometimes even to ourselves. If my hunch was right, perhaps we could create a space for sharing practices to up everyone’s game.

When Hanh Le, then Chief Program Officer at Exponent Philanthropy, heard that The Giving Practice, Philanthropy Northwest's national consulting team, was exploring the role of reflective practice as a discipline within philanthropy, she called to see what we might do together. Could we ask philanthropy practitioners to help us discover reflective practices tied to different philanthropic leadership traits? Janis Reischmann, executive director of Hau’oli Mau Loa Foundation and one of Exponent Philanthropy’s board members, agreed to help me run the session.

Cut to the chase: 50 people agreed to test-drive a dilemma of their own against four simple reflective practices:

  • Exploring what’s under the water line of complicated events that can’t be seen but must be attended to
  • Using critical incident journaling rather than talking about something that went wrong
  • Choosing images that evoke to explain a situation before using words to describe it
  • Working with an active listener (versus a hallway consultant) to hear out the situation

Next, each of us ranked our leadership traits and shared reflective practices in our most well-worn trait. We looked for practice tools that might help us in the trait that we most want to develop. We also parsed reflective practice into what we might do beforehand to prepare ourselves, what we do in the moment when things go awry, and what we do afterward to assess how things went.

Here are some takeaways:

  • Many people find ways to reflect “when there’s no time”:
  • Build in the practice of quiet, “deep work” time (e.g., 2 hours/day).
  • Drive home without the radio to review the day.
  • Go for a run.
  • Intentionally make space before or after a meeting for unplanned conversation.

There were also examples of creative journaling and techniques offered for reflective practices tied to challenging situations:

  • In difficult conversations, openly recognize the situation is difficult; pause to give it space; name the difficulty; invite participants to reflect on feelings, ideas, and solutions; and collectively discuss the group reflections.
  • GRACE: Gather my attention, Reflect on my intention, Attune to myself and others, Consider what truly will be of service, Engage and then End
  • Notice when I’m triggered or sure I’m right and then intentionally pause and let others fully express themselves while I listen.

I would love to hear more about your reflective practices, as we continue developing our online resources and facilitator expertise in this area. Share your thoughts in the Comments section below or contact me by email.

Jan Jaffe is a senior partner with The Giving Practice, Philanthropy Northwest's national consulting team. She will lead a session on Your Leadership, Your Reflective Practice at Philanthropy Northwest's Under One Sky conference, September 13-15, 2016 in Missoula, Montana.