Leaders today must be men and women who can think, reflect, reintegrate, and transform the many aspects of their lives. Leadership is no longer based merely on knowledge, competence, and experience, unless these are linked with reflection that produces alternative ways of thinking and acting. In the past we tended to stress leaders who were doers and achievers not reflective thinkers. Today’s new models of leadership all demand critical reflection, imagination, and an openness to the unknown, the unexpected, and the unexplored. The source of real learning in one’s leadership is within and this implies the importance of reflection. Below are offered four suggestions to help one be more reflective.
STILLNESS: The major preparations for reflective leadership can be viewed as one’s personal contribution in attitudes of stillness, inspiration, concentration, and silence. Each of these is a gift and is also an acquired art that benefits both reflection and leadership. We need to specifically train ourselves in stillness of body. We need to sit still, do nothing and completely relax. For people of religious faith, any of the present techniques for relaxation which help in the acquiring of stillness in the presence of God can be used. This first simple stage should not be passed over. In our present speed-prone age, it can be a real effort. In the long run, it pays high dividends. Linked to this outward relaxed position should be deep and regular breathing. The stillness that reflection and prayer requires is also a fine attitude in daily life and leadership. People who are always rushing here and hurrying there are not noted for the quality of their presence to others, whether colleagues, family, or friends. No one can be consistently still in times of reflection, unless he or she can be still in the presence of others, giving them attention and interest. Stillness is not something that we can turn on for moments of reflection. Rather, it must be very gradually acquired through self- training and sacrifice. This effort to train oneself in stillness and to place oneself in the presence of God is a “prayer of the body.”
INSPIRATION. To facilitate the second step in reflection one needs, throughout daily life, to train oneself in openness to the varied and continual inspirations of the day from wherever they come. To help the development of the genuine spirit of inspiration we need to know ourselves as we are, with the good and weak sides, and express ourselves as we truly feel. If we hide or close ourselves to the unacceptable about ourselves this just becomes a block to our reflection and prayer. We also need to be open to being inspired by others and by the world; and here one need only apply the general principles of dialogue in openness to others and in the signs of the times.
If in times of reflection and prayer and decision-making in leadership we are able to show openness to inspiration, then it will be because we have developed in life this attitude of total attentiveness to the varied inspirations that come personally to us in our hearts, in others, in the world with its history and in daily events. If we have not a listening heart and not trained ourselves in the art of listening, then when a critical time of change and challenge comes it is humanly impossible for us just to switch on to becoming inspired or inspirational.
CONCENTRATION. Thirdly, we must train ourselves to concentrate, then in dealing with others or in discerning institutional direction we will be able to concentrate individually and with others in the challenging moments of life. Here again, we have an act of reflection and prayer which is an art and we can develop it by the way we approach other aspects of our daily leadership life. Therefore, as a remote preparation for reflection and prayer, try to develop concentration.
The ability to concentrate, which is also a common necessity in human growth, is something to be acquired by daily effort. Only short moments are needed, a few minutes while traveling, a view in the city, a scene in the country, a person’s face, a picture, a child—all can be objects of a moment’s concentration. On the other hand, listening intensely for a short while to a piece of music, or just one sound, or a bird, or a person’s voice, or the rustling of leaves—all can open us to concentrate on something we did not perceive before. This is the self training and remote preparation we need for reflection and prayer and a preparation to discover the best in others.
SILENCE IN GOD. The kernel of genuine reflection is silence, and of genuine prayer silence in God. There are several attitudes of daily life which can undoubtedly help and prepare the way for this recollected silence. Awareness to the quality of one’s presence to others and recollection are fundamental. Effort given to this reflective silence is generally more profitable for growth in reflection than is anything else. To these ought to be added a cultivated sense of wonder and astonishment. These qualities are often missing in life today, but if reflective leadership must also include an attitude of openness to the ever newness of others and of organizational growth, we will need a genuine sense of mystery and wonder to appreciate what is always ahead of us, always new, and our growing efforts at concentration will be an aid here. In this connection we need a healthy sense of aloneness, an awareness of our own unfulfillment except through others and in God—in other
words, the attitude of one who is a real searcher.
Above all, one needs patience and a willingness to wait. Sometimes in the reflective moments of a day we try to push ourselves—disliking emptiness, we return to the normal actions of each day at the first sign of “nothing happening.” Those who do wait are generally the ones who can come up with a new insight, can see links with vision and mission, and can see how every member of the group “fits in.” All these above attitudes are also aspects of daily life, and
living through them in daily life can be a preparation for reflection and an enrichment of our leadership skills. Nancy Eggert suggests four means to enter into contemplative experience: 1. Through appreciation of the material world (appreciation). 2. By letting go and letting be (detachment). 3. Through creative breakthroughs (creativity). 4. By means of social justice and compassion (compassion).