“The primary difference between having experience and learning from it is a matter of actively reflecting on the experience and asking ‘what have I learned from what I just experienced?’”
New Year Executive Reflection
Crossing the cusp of the new year is a traditional and natural time to reflect on the year we leave behind and vision for the year ahead. The calendar change is as much an invitation for reflection as a promotion, project end or job change. After a recap of results, the appeal of a fresh start and a blank canvass compel us to move forward quickly.
In our action oriented, future focused culture, we undervalue endings. Our eagerness to move ahead leads us to gloss over closing. Unfortunately, closing is where we extract the learning from what we have just experienced. In organizations, “what’s next?” trumps “what did we learn?” This is why many of them repeat the same mistakes. Leaders do as well. The primary reflective work done is reporting, usually numbers. Like the organization culture that envelopes them, leaders tend to value action more than reflection. Much of the learning crop is left to rot on the vine. Opportunities to gain competitive advantage by learning faster than competition is overlooked. The primary difference between having experience and learning from it is a matter of actively reflecting on the experience and asking “what have I learned from what I just experienced?” This can be the difference between gaining five years experience and one year’s experience repeated five times. Being intentional and explicit anchors the insight and makes it more available for use going forward.
The questions to ponder can be simple:
- What stands out for me as my greatest learning from this past year?
- What insights did I gain about myself, as a leader and as a person?
- What did I learn about my role, my business, the market and my organization?
- How have I updated my beliefs and assumptions about change, growth, organizations and myself?
- What did I notice about how I used myself in carrying out my responsibilities? How might I use myself in new ways going forward?
- What feels different about me since I last took stock?
- Where do I see the greatest opportunity for enhancing my positive impact on others?
You will have other questions (what personal patterns have continued or changed, familiar and new personal blind spots, etc.), but pausing and asking such questions is where the value lies. Asking similar questions of your staff is a powerful coaching tool. Sharing such questions and personal responses (with or without feedback) is an easy team development design. It promotes individual and organization learning. Lifelong learner is not just a ‘must have’ for entry hires. We are doomed to repeat what we haven’t learned. And we are destined to be edged out by those who have learned.