Reflection as a constructive habit

Welcome and thanks for taking the time to find and read my first blog.  I hope you find it thought provoking and look forward to receiving any constructive feedback that can be used to improve future editions.

So a little about me first as a scene setter.

Since 1987 I’ve worked at the front end of the UK’s fight against serious and organised crime. This has taken me all over the world and allowed me to commit myself to a career routed firmly in public service and doing what I can to help others.

Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to have worked in specialist operational roles, spent time in the shadows, held national positions and now lead the business led transformation of our intelligence capabilities within the NCA.

It’s also exposed me to some amazing highs and crushing lows and situations, that without the strength and support of my wife and lately the ability to objectively ‘reflect’, would have probably have ended up very differently.

So why is this blog important to me?

As the title “Reflection as a constructive habit” indicates, this blog relates to how the practice of regular self reflection can be used to help us be better leaders, people, citizens and friends.  This is something that can be learned and is, in my opinion, worth sharing with others.

So in this and following blogs, I’d like introduce myself and to share some of the techniques that I use to make sure I properly understand what has happened or what needs to be done in specific situations, especially where the cause of frustration or failed ventures actually sits with things that I’ve done, avoided or failed to recognise.

To me this the heart of the power of ‘reflection’ and being an ‘authentic’ leader, but for most of us this can be incredibly difficult to do objectively without having to acknowledge elements about ourselves and our behaviour that can sometimes be uncomfortable to admit and face up to (especially when you live and work in a conventional, hierarchical society that too often sees vulnerability as a weakness!)

So why am I sharing this now?

Work and personal study has taught me that if you can’t look at yourself and properly understand how your behaviour and actions impact situations and others then you never be able to accept who you really are.

This, to me, is the core to being an authentic person, as if you can’t be authentic with yourself, how can you ever be authentic to others?

And if you can’t be authentic in your dealings with staff and colleagues, then how will you ever expect to be a credible and respected leader?

So as part of my reflection on 2017 I thought I’d reach out and share some of what I’ve learned along the way.

At this time of year it’s normal to think about what’s happened over the past year and possibly start planning on what we hope to achieve in 2018 and beyond.

This has always been an important activity for me but especially since December  2014, when I was fortunate enough to attend the AIPM Strategic Leadership Program in Manly, Australia, where I was introduced to a systematic method of self evaluation, that turned out to be completely transformational on both the way I looked at the world and my place in it.

I’ll address the actual practicalities of the AIPM model in following blogs but for now I’d like to share how this practice has helped both myself and others during 2017.

In 2016, whilst leading a high priority area, I ‘burned out’ and had to take time off to recover from the exhaustion and associated damage I’d done to myself.

Although the signs had been there for some time, like too many of us, I’d simply continued to do what I’d done throughout my career and tackled problems and challenges in my traditional manner of throwing more of myself at it.

So although a complete surprise to me, when I’d finally hit the point where my body said “enough is enough” I had nothing left and came to a crashing halt, in a way that surprised everyone involved and left me completely lost and frightened that I’d caused permanent damage to myself and would never be myself again.

Without the ability to objectively reflect on the situation, root causes and my role in enabling it to happen in the first place, it would have been all too easy to simply see myself as a ‘failure’, stay off work on protracted sick leave and end up wrongly viewing the situation through ‘shame’ which could have led to me never making the recovery I’ve been fortunate to make.

Reflection also helped me to openly confront the stigma that exists to ‘burn out’ and mental illness and to recognise that this, again has largely to do with fear and ignorance, rather than pre-meditated prejudice.

This insight has provided an amazing opportunity to, through role modelling and openly talking about my experience, to show others that it’s ‘ok to not be ok’ and that these conditions are unfortunately far more common than we like to openly acknowledge.

So why did reflection help?

Reflection has let me recognise that ‘burn out’ doesn’t define me and as a senior manager in the NCA, who has been through this situation (and survived) that I can be there for others and provide some support that gets others the help they need.

Reflection has also let me become far more strategic in my thinking and enabled me to consider far wider issues that I’d miss if only caught in the tactical space.  This enables far better decision making and consideration of opposing or competing perspectives.

It has also enabled far greater planning and critical thinking, which in turn has let me step back and give others the space to properly develop into roles that I would have previously been highly protective off.

This I think has been one of the biggest benefits of reflection, as I can now see where my team needs to be developed and where the work can provide the opportunities required to stretch and challenge so they can be the best leaders in their own way.

So hopefully I’ve provided a platform to build on and in the next edition i’ll introduce you to how I use “Reflection Journals” and the 1st layer of consider, which is “What did I see and what did I hear?”

Until then Season’s wishes and Happy New Year