Consider the word “discipline” for a moment.
In one sense it refers to a subject or a course of study. Within the context of the discipline of reflective leadership, the material to be mastered includes the principles of the human knowledge base and our ability to reflect on how our choices and behaviors, as perceived by those with whom we interact, conform to or violate those principles.
But the term also carries implications of self-control and personal restraint. It suggests a standard we must strive to achieve, a path we must work to follow.
In this light, discipline becomes a characteristic that reflective leaders exert effort to manifest, a standard they strive to live up to.
Exercising discipline in a reflective practice means that we take self-assessment seriously. We pursue it with dedication and refuse to make allowances on account of external circumstances.
That we’re sick and grouchy, that the pressure of a deadline is immense, that the predicament we’re facing is unfair and unjust – we refuse to allow exceptions or excuses to absolve us of our duty.
Instead, we keep our gaze on ourselves and the choices we are making. We do this not only because it’s the “right” thing to do, but because these choices are where we have the greatest leverage over the systems around us. They are where the most improvement, both personal and organizational, can be achieved.
It is a basic human tendency to focus on the shortcomings and failures of others. Turning the weight of that critical gaze back on ourselves takes discipline and commitment. Keeping it there takes even more.
But what is leadership if not the quest for continual improvement? Where will improvement come from, if not from leaders who are conscientiously hanging the mirror and giving honest consideration to what they see reflected back at them?
Reflection is the surest means of development and growth, not only for leaders and managers but for human beings functioning in any context. Only through reflection can we and those around us realize the potential that lies within. Only through reflection do we become everything we could be.