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Step Back and Become a Reflective Leader

Clive Martlew

Creating a Reflective Community

Over the past 10 weeks we’ve brought together a virtual group in weekly facilitated conversations to:

· explore our personal approaches to reflection

· expand our repertoire of reflective practices

· share our experience of what works and what doesn’t

Each week the group undrertook some guided journaling and a deep dive into a new reflective practice. We created an online platform for sharing our emerging ideas and a field book of practical and creative reflective practices for everyday use.

The group consisted of a mix of people who wanted to use reflection both in their leadership roles and as trusted advisers or coaches. We began our community journey by looking at the evidence about the value of reflection for leaders and how it:

· helps us learn from experience

· builds self-awareness

· reduces biases and blind spots

· fills the ‘feedback gap’

We observed that through reflecting on experience we clarify our identity as leaders, develop a point of view and articulate our values. Reflection also helps us:

· make sense of complexity and context

· build confidence and manage doubt and anxiety

· broadens our options for action

· envision, plan and rehearse new ways of leading

Becoming Good Enough

And yet we did acknowledge that reflection is hard. Hard to make it a habit. Hard to find challenge and really deepen our insights. Hard to follow through with action. Despite its many benefits we shared a common experience of often lacking time and motivation for reflection. We’re distracted and overwhelmed. We have enough weighty responsibilities and problems without actively seeking more things to worry about! We’re often overcome with a sense of being unable to match up to some perfect standard of reflection.

So we also recognised that it’s important to be realistic and to find an approach to reflection that actually works for each of us; to be ‘good enough’ while striving to be better. Through the Community programme we protected some time and found a supportive context within which to gently experiment with more creative and stretching reflective practices. We appreciated and learned from positive experiences; we didn’t just focus on difficulties.

Reflecting With Purpose

We agreed that we probably do more reflection than we realised – a lot of it while out walking - but were troubled by the possibility that this is ‘merely’ daydreaming or idle contemplation. Genuine Reflective Practice we concluded is about more than mental meandering to use Joe Badaracco’s lovely phrase. It’s more than pausing for thought, contemplation, pondering, introspection or being mindful. It’s a repertoire of tools that are systematic, purposeful and action oriented:

· it’s a habit

· it’s a discipline

· it’s an attitude of mind

In the next part of this blog I’ll explore some of the specific ideas and practices that are the building blocks for the work of reflective practice and how leaders can use them as part of their commitment to rich, efficient, purposeful professional development.

If you would like to explore this topic with a member of the Taylor Clarke team and how we may be able to help you, please contact

Read Clive’s blog series on Reflective Practice for Leaders:


Clive Martlew has over 30 years experience as a leadership coach. He was previously Head of Learning and Leadership Development with the Scottish Government and at the UK Department for International Development (DFID). He is fascinated by the slippery question of how leaders learn.


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