Disciplined Reflection

Posted on December 27, 2012 by



Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

For many of us, December is a natural time to pause and reflect on our lives; the school year is one-half complete, many of our leaders have gone home for Christmas break, and we have fewer meetings scheduled.   If you have not yet taken time away, consider the findings of counselor and executive coach Richard Leider.  In his work over the last several decades, Leider has interviewed over 1000 highly successful retirees.  In answer to the question, ‘If you got to do it all over again, you would?…’ the answers were remarkably consistent.  These high achieving folks agreed that they would reflect more, take more risks, and give of themselves more to that which they find fulfilling.  (Typically, Leider found that what fulfilled these folks was getting outside of themselves – giving themselves more to that which outlasts them).  As a Young Life leaders we have many opportunities to achieve the later two.  At the same time, we run so hard in so many directions that slowing down is a rare occurrence.   Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”  The bible consistently exhorts us to reflect on our lives, the Lord’s works in & around us, relationships, those who lead us & those whom we lead, and our future e.g. Job 37:14, Ps 107:43, Eccl 7:14, Heb 13:7.

Reflection requires disciplined thought.  Are you progressing toward your goals?  (If you have not set goals or need a refresher, review Dr. Edwin Locke’s findings).  A simple starting point is to inspect your calendar and your checkbook.  We know that where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Lk 12:34).  Are you spending your time and money appropriately, that is, in a way that is allowing you to progress toward your goals?  We live in a culture that celebrates busyness, but don’t confuse activity for productivity.  In Good to Great, author Jim Collins urges readers to confront the brutal facts.  Do not justify, rationalize, or defend yourself; rather, take an honest inventory.  If we’ve set goals, our progress will be simple to measure.  (The state of our heart may be more difficult to monitor using objective standards, but we should endeavor to inspect all of our lives.)

What we find through reflection and how we respond to it requires discipline.  In the last week I’ve sat with business leaders who confessed to me their failure to lead their wives, their children, their ministry, their fellow workers, and their community.  The feelings can be paralyzing, but we must not allow our emotions to control our thoughts.  We must first recognize that failure is not permanent.  Zig Ziglar famously stated, “Failure is an event not a person.”  We have the benefit of learning how to respond to failure found in lives of many folks that have gone before us.  Thomas Edison was quoted as saying, “I have not failed 10, 000 times in creating a light bulb.  Rather, I have successfully discovered 10,000 ways that do not work.”  Edison went on to become one of the most prolific inventors of the late 19th century.  Winston Churchill failed the sixth grade.  Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team.  Walt Disney was told that he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas” when he was fired from a newspaper job early in his career.  A worthwhile exercise would be reading a biography of Abraham Lincoln or Ulysses Grant to discover the long list of apparent failures they overcome, and how their leadership was cultivated as they moved forward through these many challenges. The way you view your past has a lot to do with the way you will live today and the way you will view the future.

Again, Collins provides two very practical inputs for helping us progress when we fall short of our goals.  The first is to always consider “Who before what.”  This helps us to determine if we, or those we lead, are serving in the right positions.  If we are not in the right position, we need courage to change; if we have leaders who should not be serving, we need to remove them.  Several years ago, I spent time with a “YL dad.”  He was faced with challenges as a salesman, and sought input from his family.  His daughter told him, “Dad, you’ve never been a good insurance salesman.”  Not long after that, he decided to throw himself into his passion – competitive diving.  This friend became an advocate for the sport of diving as he coached kids, raised money, and helped organize events locally.  This was a courageous move for a 57 year old man.

The second insight is to apply the Hedgehog Principle.  This can be summed up as “Doing one thing and doing it well.”  The idea is that a hedgehog does one thing when attacked by a fox – rolls into a ball and effectively protects himself.  The fox is cunning, crafty, and quick to try multiple strategies with no success.  Collins encourages us to determine what we are best at, what we are passionate about, and what drives our economic engine.  Where these areas overlap, a “sweet spot” is formed.  Spend your time and energy here in a focused and deliberate manner.

Take time to reflect as the calendar year comes to an end.  Be honest about how you are doing as a leader of leaders.  Do you need to make adjustments or changes?  Areas of apparent failure can be opportunities for development and growth.  Perhaps these are areas that require drastic change.  Perhaps these are areas that require a re-commitment to effective ministry principles and your diligence in putting them into practice!  Be encouraged by the words of Paul from Philippians 3:13- 14, “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”