Note: A version of this was previously published on Forbes.
I worked with a group of senior executives recently. During the session, they discussed the pressures and demands they face in their roles. One leader exclaimed, “I don’t have a free minute in my day.”
I challenged him by saying, “If you don’t have a free minute in your day, are you leading, or are you a victim of your calendar?” The question stopped him in his tracks. He didn’t like the provocation, but later he thanked me because he realized he had lost perspective.
Many CEOs and senior executives are caught up in the whirlwind of day-to-day operations, strategic decision-making, and managing stakeholders. However, amidst the constant demands and pressures, carving out dedicated think time and reflection on leadership becomes paramount. Yet, in my experience, few leaders have the discipline to implement this practice. As much as they agree with its importance, they fail to act on it.
This article explores the importance of CEOs and other senior executives setting aside time to reflect on their leadership and what to do in these precious moments of introspection.
Value & Protect Think Time
The first step is to view personal thinking time as the key to growth and effectiveness as a leader.
It’s a vital strategy to help you gain insights, identify strengths and areas for improvement, and make more informed and thoughtful decisions that can be elusive on a busy and hectic day.
You can gain clarity, discover fresh perspectives, and refine leadership approach by taking a step back from the daily grind. Reflective time is a foundation for personal and professional growth, enabling CEOs to become more effective, adaptable, and visionary. One CEO I work with blocks off two hours every Friday afternoon. No one on her team can interrupt her other than the CFO or Chair of the Board, and only if there is an urgent matter.
You must prioritize and protect that dedicated time. Set clear boundaries, reduce distractions, and create a structured framework for introspection. Whether it’s a weekly block or specific time slots throughout the week, establish a routine that ensures uninterrupted focus. By safeguarding this time, you can also foster a culture of intentional leadership development within your organizations.
The key is to find a consistent time that works for you. If you are a morning person, do it early in the morning. If you are a night owl, that might be your ideal zone.
Areas To Focus On During Your Think Time
I have worked with many CEOs with disciplined practices around personal thinking time. Here are some areas to focus on during that protected time:
Strategy And Planning
Reflection is an opportune time for CEOs to review and refine their strategic vision. They can assess the progress made towards organizational goals, identify emerging trends and strategize on future initiatives. CEOs can consider their role in driving enterprise-wide initiatives, aligning actions with long-term objectives and evaluating the effectiveness of their strategic decisions.
Relationship Building And Mentoring
Building solid relationships is crucial for effective leadership. CEOs should reflect on their relationships with stakeholders, team members and external partners. They can assess the quality of these relationships, identify areas for improvement and consider how to foster a collaborative and supportive culture. Reflection time can also be utilized to evaluate mentoring and coaching efforts, nurture talent and guide future leaders.
Deep Work And Review
CEOs should allocate time for deep thinking, analysis and review. They can critically evaluate past decisions, assess the impact of their actions and identify areas where adjustments are necessary. Reflection can be used for identifying strengths and weaknesses, exploring alternative approaches and ensuring continuous improvement as a leader.
Workload Management And Delegation
CEOs must reflect on their workload and consider opportunities for delegation. They can assess the effectiveness of their time management, identify tasks that can be entrusted to capable team members and create space for leadership-focused activities. Reflection time can streamline processes, reduce meeting durations and identify areas where efficiency can be improved.
Continuous Learning And Personal Development
Reflection is a prime opportunity for CEOs to engage in constant learning. They can use this time to read books, articles and industry insights, staying abreast of the latest trends and advancements. CEOs can reflect on their personal development as leaders, identify areas for skill enhancement and seek growth opportunities.
In the demanding role of a CEO, setting aside dedicated time for thinking and reflecting on one’s leadership is not a luxury; it is a necessity. By deliberately creating space for introspection, you can gain invaluable insights, refine your strategies and cultivate leadership skills. From strategic planning to relationship building, deep work to continuous learning, reflection empowers CEOs to lead purposefully, drive organizational success, and inspire their teams.
As CEOs embrace the power of dedicated thinking time, they embark on a transformative journey toward becoming even more effective, resilient, and deliberate.
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