Accelerating Leadership Development

My wife was telling one of her friends about my gratitude journal. The woman later approached me about it. She asked how much time it took to write a typical entry. I told her 15 minutes to an hour.

“That is a serious time commitment,” she responded. I explained that I see the journal writing as a form of meditation. It brings me so many benefits that it has become like a positive addiction. The process feeds me. I go through the day at a higher performance level.

She understood but wondered whether a modern professional who leaves for work very early, puts in 10-12 hours, and comes home exhausted could accomplish such a thing?

I acknowledged that it would be hard and the conversation went on to other topics. Later I remembered two things I wished I had shared. First is a story about a CEO. He sat next to me on a plane. We began chatting and soon he was telling me about his gratitude journal. He gets up at 4 AM in order to spend an hour recording his expressions of gratitude. To make such an investment, he must find that the returns are high. Yet initially finding out about the returns required an act of faith.

I also remembered a message from a person who had read one of my books. Life experiences may be developmental, he suggested, but “only if we have the opportunity and courage to reflect on and learn from these experiences, especially in the community of others.” He went on to share a related thought, quoting a community organizer: “Most people I meet are lumps of undigested experience.”

Research suggests that taking a course or workshop in leadership is a good thing. Yet the greatest predictor of leadership development is not just having new experiences, but also reflecting on those experiences. The problem is that the very active people who tend to have new experiences also tend to avoid reflection. They are “lumps of undigested experience.” On the other hand, very reflective people, who prefer thinking over action, do not have as many new experiences. They are lumps of irrelevant expertise.

Leadership development is a function of doing both. Learning to reflect on new experiences leads to the clarification of purpose and the confidence necessary to enter the cauldron of uncertainty.   A gratitude journal is a developmental way to accelerate leader development.


How often do I have new experiences?

How deeply do I reflect on my new experiences?

How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?


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