Dr. Tony Campolo in one of his messages I heard many years ago, mentions the results of a sociological study done of 50 men and women above the age of 95. They were all asked what they would do differently if given the chance to live their lives over again. The responses as he points out, narrowed down overwhelmingly to the following priorities :
- We would risk more
- We would reflect more
- We would do more things that would continue to have significance beyond our lives.
This message had me pondering for a period of time over what my response would be while approaching the end of the journey of my life. I made intentional efforts to set aside time for reflection, time to dream and envision and to step out in faith with a few audacious goals. Over two decades have gone by swiftly in the pursuit and the fulfilment of most of those dreams and goals and now I find myself mostly preoccupied with the immediate, present, instant and consumed by the ‘tyranny of the urgent’; more of ‘catching up’ than pursuing a vision. The reasons could be the rapid changes in communication and technology, the ever increasing demands of leadership and my personal drive to be engaged in activity; this list of reasons could go on, nevertheless, at the end of the day, they leave me with the same struggles, facing the same pressures till I discover that they all turn out to be excuses for not taking time to step back and reflect.
I was reminded of this message while reading Daniel Patrick Forrester’s Consider: Harnessing the Power of Reflective Thinking in Your Organization. The author discusses the significance and value of reflection in an individual’s life and in an organization: “To define new ways to behave and operate requires leadership that has the ability to take a big step away from what we are living as “the status quo” (Forrester 2011).” He further elaborates his point with rich illustrations from the lives of several leaders who through their regular practice of reflection have enriched their own lives and that of organizations and nations that they have led.
This reading is a timely reminder for me once again that:
- That Reflection is a powerful tool for leaders. Unfortunately it is one that is undervalued not maximized . Leaders are doers and are wired for activity, that quite often the reason attributed for the lack of reflection is lack of time. Realizing that such a stance is the greatest blunder can improve a leader’s life and increase efficiency (Kotter n.d.).
- Secondly reflection is not a passive process of inactivity as it may be perceived. Though it includes the above, Reflection involves much more; thinking, reading, writing organizing thoughts on problems and solutions; all of these turn it into an intentionally active process as well (Ibid).
- Reflection is an absolute necessity for effective and successful leadership; it is not an option. Reflection helps gain perspective of the past present and the future, undoubtedly bringing deeper insights and greater clarity on issues that leaders are constantly confronted with, required to tackle and leave behind lasting legacies.
Christian faith and tradition have taken the above realities into account and made provision for it; nonetheless, practitioners of the Faith fail to practice it. The Lenten season that we have just entered is a marvellous reminder of the criticality of and opportunity for reflection, introspection and spiritual renewal. Jesus withdrew from the crowds to be alone for Reflection, sometimes just by Himself and at other times to be with his inner circle – his disciples. From the Gospel narratives we realize that these were critical times after which he came to face the realities of earthly life and ministry with renewed vigour.
A simple poem I memorized in fifth grade titled ‘Leisure’ by W.H. Davies comes to mind:
“What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare (Leisure (poem) n.d.).”
Forrester, Daniel Patrick. Consider: Harnessing the Power of Reflective Thinking in Your Organization. New York, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.
Kotter, John. Taking Another Look: Leading Minds on Reflection Part 1. http://www.leadershipnow.com/leadingblog/2011/02/taking_another_look_leading_mi_1.html (accessed March 5, 2014).
Leisure (poem). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leisure_(poem) (accessed March 7, 2014).