Fluency Leadership

Leadership Starts with Self-Reflection


I remember early in my career being asked to write an article on a complex topic. I had few details and little direction. I did my research and poured my heart into it only to have it completely re-written, except for one sentence the manager saw fit to use. I had clearly missed the mark but wasn’t sure how or why, not even after reading the final version. I felt inadequate as a writer and that I had let my manager down.  I came to realize the failure was not my writing skills but that I had no idea what the expectations were, and I got no feedback or corrective coaching.  It was a missed opportunity to learn.  

We know the role of the leader is to lead teams to results that positively impact the organization. So when team members miss the mark, overlook important details, deliver sub-standard work, make mistakes or fail to see critical connections, we are naturally drawn to those deficiencies. The impulse is to quickly fix the problem and find a solution or, even worse, hand out blame or punishment.     

The trouble with fixing and solving is not only is there no meaningful learning involved for the team member, but chances are also good that we are jumping to the solution or fix without clearly defining the problem and understanding the ‘why’ behind it.  And the problem with blame is it lives in the past, assumes people are the problem, and is often assigned before all the facts are known. Blame is an accountability and trust killer and, if the follow-on action is unfair punishment, then you also kill the learning.  

So, what if there was another way? When as a leader you are struggling to get the quality of work or the results you expect, instead of reflecting on the deficiencies in others, what if you started with self-reflection as a first step? 

It’s not easy; self-reflection is hard work. It’s front-end loaded and may not be the natural starting point if your first instinct is to look outward rather than inward.  

We’ve talked about  self-awareness  as being the most important leadership trait. Self-reflection is the path to self-awareness.  It requires leaders to carve out time to ask and answer questions that explore assumptions, gaps and opportunities for learning and create solutions or processes to address. It invites us to ask, “Have I created the container and set up the processes to get the results and performance I am looking for?”  Self-reflection is critical for leadership development and it’s a practice that can strengthen team relationships.     

Here are five key self-reflective questions (and even more questions within them) you can ask yourself when your team members are missing the mark or you are not getting the performance and results you expect.     

1. Do I understand the real challenge?   

Albert Einstein said, “If you give me an hour to solve a problem, I’ll spend 55 minutes on figuring out what the problem is, and then I’ll spend 5 mins on solving the problem.” It is easy to make assumptions or tell ourselves stories based on what we see. More often than not, identifying the real challenge takes some effort. There are a host of reasons why people might not be meeting expectations. Lean into curiosity to identify the underlying challenge.      

2. Have I defined the   standard I want to see?    

Someone recently shared that their boss was always telling her to be more strategic, but she had no idea what that meant, let alone how to put it into action.  We make assumptions that people understand what we mean, yet the likelihood of them having a completely different interpretation is high because each of us are informed by different experiences, values, beliefs and knowledge. Are you clear in your mind about what good quality looks like? Do you know what specific results you are seeking? Is there clarity on the actions and behaviours you want to see or don’t want to see?    

3. Is there clarity and alignment around my  expectations?   

Having defined the standard, have you vividly communicated what ‘paint done’ looks like to the team? Paint done, an expression I learned in  Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead  book, refers to providing colour, context, explanations, examples so the team can clearly understand your expectations and can ask questions to sharpen the picture and know what is required. Clarity is vital and is a pre-requisite for accountability.  

4. Have my team members taken accountability for the ir  deliverable s?   

Interestingly, accountability cannot be delegated; it needs to be accepted. No one is going to take ownership and show accountability for something they are not clear about, buy into or believe won’t succeed.  To transfer the ownership to a team member, it is imperative you provide whatever is missing or they will remain a spectator. Here’s some questions you can ask them:  

  • Is this clear? Are any questions coming up?  
  • Do you have what you need to be successful?   
  • Do you feel you can take ownership of this task?  
  • What might get in your way? 
  • What can I count on you to do and when will you deliver it?  
  • How will you let me know if something gets in your way?   

5. Am I coaching them to the standard as they learn?   

Learning new behaviours is not instantaneous, no matter how clear you have been. It will take time before the team are fully meeting expectations and are knocking it out of the park.  As a leader, your role is to help them get there. It will require you to be consistent with the standard, provide feedback and recognize progress.  And rather than telling people what to do, a more sustainable approach to transfer the learning is to apply a  coaching mindset  to inspire people to think through challenges, find their own solutions, own their decisions, and take them forward. The hallmarks of a coach approach are open-ended curiosity questions and feedback in the form of observations.  

  • What have you tried?  
  • What else can you try?  
  • Where can you get more information?  
  • How will you know when you get there?   
  • What is another way of looking at that?   
  • I notice your hesitation, what’s behind that?   
  • You sound more confident about the process, what has shifted for you? 
  • What is your next step?   

Self-reflection starts with leading with the assumption of generosity which, as Brene Brown describes, is believing that people are doing the best that they can. It also requires us to trust the team we’ve hired, hold them capable, and commit to developing and coaching them to success.   

It is time well-invested and a path to getting the consistent performance and results that meet the standard.   

 Looking t o help your leaders bring more of a coach approach to their leadership. Check out our  Coach Leader workshop .   

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The Institute of Leadership & Management

  • Leadership Essentials: Critical Reflection

Leaders demonstrate ownership by encouraging reflective practice.

  • Dimensions of Leadership
  • Critical Reflection
  • 4.7 out of 5 • 3 ratings

"Reflection means to contemplate without necessarily having a purpose, whereas critical reflection means to contemplate with evaluation, through questioning and examining knowledge, beliefs and possible changes that need to be made." (Cottrell, 2017)

In critical reflection, you think about your practice, for example in your workplace, and ask yourself probing questions about what has happened in the past, and/ or what is happening now, about both what worked and what did not work. As a result of your reflection, you draw conclusions and learn lessons about what might happen in the future, and how you need to respond. The main focus of critical reflection is learning from your experience of, for example, your workplace performance, issues and problems.

When we reflect, as well as reflecting, with our personal beliefs, we reflect through other “lenses”, on multiple perspectives (Brookfield, 1995). Thus, critical reflection means examining your own personal assumptions, views and behaviours. This sometimes results in unearthing deep-seated attitudes or assumptions that may be culturally held and which some people can find unsettling at first. The key to successful critical reflection is getting the balance right by minimising the risk to the person and maximising their learning. However, with a deeper, more intense, more probing reflection, you are more likely to achieve better judgement and decisions. Critical reflection may well challenge leaders who are so driven to achieve in their work that they never question the consequences of their actions, or fail to consider other people’s viewpoints; the process of reflecting may also be challenging to some leader’s favourable perception of themselves.

Critical reflection is often used in organisations to learn from a critical incident.

Critical Incident Analysis

The following is a simple and easy framework to get you started. It guides you through reflecting critically on, and learning from, events that have significance for you. The questions under each heading are suggestions and you may want to use alternatives. There are no right or wrong answers, and the framework is flexible. However, the overarching elements of “The what?”, “So what?” and “Now what?” are important parts of a critical incident reflection.

LE Critical Reflection.png

What are the advantages and disadvantages of critical reflection?

Reported benefits include:

  • Increased co-operation between people
  • New ways of dealing with long-standing issues
  • Motivation to deal with long-standing issues that previously froze action
  • Openness to new/ other perspectives
  • People become motivated to find new ways of working, especially where there has previously been conflict
  • Improved prioritising of work
  • Better morale
  • New ways of relating with service users
  • Insights into how to frame problems differently
  • Looking at situations from multiple perspectives
  • Holistic way of understanding, especially of complex or ambiguous situations
  • Integration of theory with practice
  • Facilitates insight
  • Stimulates self-discovery

Reported disadvantages include:

  • Risk that unearthing assumptions or beliefs threatens people and so works against the learning potential
  • Workplace culture may work against reflection by exploiting people’s vulnerabilities
  • Processes lack clarity of detail and therefore difficult to measure outcomes
  • Reflective approach does not fit cost-cutting trends
  • Some argue it takes too much time in a climate of maximum efficiency
  • Outcomes are unpredictable

How do you carry out critical reflection?

Several different formats to guide critical reflection have been developed to meet the needs of individuals, groups, organisations and professions, for example:

Reflective Practice

Reflective Practice is a process of self-analysis where you reflect on your thoughts, feelings and actions in order to understand, evaluate and interpret events and experiences in which you are involved so that you participate in a process of continuous learning. It is based on the view that experience alone is not certain to lead to learning; however intentional reflection on your experience is essential for effective learning (Fook, 2007). It is a way of:

  • using insights and learning from your past,
  • to assess where you are now,
  • to improve your present and future.

Reflective Practice is now used in many professions and services to support effective self-development at work. It is widely used in leadership development. It enables learning from experience and on-the-job-learning.

Action Learning

Action learning is a method for individual and organisation development which is based upon a small group of colleagues (a ‘set’) meeting over time to tackle real problems in order to get things done. They reflect and learn from each other as they attempt to change things and it is particularly effective for developing leadership and tackling complex problems. It is considered good practice for set membership to be voluntary, and the role of the Action Learning coach is to encourage and facilitate insightful questions that encourage dialogue and reflection from set members. 

Critical thinking

Thinking critically requires you to use your thinking to reason. The aim of critical thinking is to get as near as possible to the truth. It is about:

  • Asking and responding to questions systematically.
  • Thinking clearly and rationally, understanding the logical connection between ideas.
  • Carefully thinking through things, questioning ideas, assumptions and opinions.
  • Identifying, analysing and solving problems systematically rather than by gut feel, instinct or intuition.

LE Critical Reflection2.png

Bailey, J. R. & and Rehman, S. (2022). Don’t Underestimate the Power of Self-Reflection Don’t Underestimate the Power of Self-Reflection (hbr.org)

Brookfield, S. D. (1995). Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Cottrell, S. (2017). Critical Thinking Skills: Effective Analysis, Argument and Reflection (Palgrave Study Skills) Publ. Palgrave, UK

Madsen, S. (2020). The Key To Leadership Development Is Critical Reflection The Key To Leadership Development Is Critical Reflection (forbes.com)

Neale, P. (2021). Seven Tips For Designing A Leadership Self-Reflection Practice Seven Tips For Designing A Leadership Self-Reflection Practice (forbes.com)

How well do you reflect, as a leader? Test yourself with our Scorecard.

If you’re a member, you can test yourself on Critical Reflection and see if you meet the standard.

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Spotlight on Reflective Practice

09 February 2018

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Spotlight on Critical Thinking

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Spotlight on Action Learning

Further resources, introducing critical reflection.

29 October 2018

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The Future of Leadership Development

  • Mihnea Moldoveanu
  • Das Narayandas

leadership development reflection essay

Companies spend heavily on executive education but often get a meager return on their investment. That’s because business schools and other traditional educators aren’t adept at teaching the soft skills vital for success today, people don’t always stay with the organizations that have paid for their training, and learners often can’t apply classroom lessons to their jobs. The way forward, say business professors Mihnea Moldoveanu and Das Narayandas, lies in the “personal learning cloud”—the fast-growing array of online courses, interactive platforms, and digital tools from both legacy providers and upstarts. The PLC is transforming leadership development by making it easy and affordable to get personalized, socialized, contextualized, and trackable learning experiences.

Gaps in traditional executive education are creating room for approaches that are more tailored and democratic.

Idea in Brief

The problem.

Traditional approaches to leadership development no longer meet the needs of organizations or individuals.

The Reasons

There are three: (1) Organizations, which pay for leadership development, don’t always benefit as much as individual learners do. (2) Providers aren’t developing the soft skills organizations need. (3) It’s often difficult to apply lessons learned in class to the real world.

The Solution

A growing assortment of online courses, social platforms, and learning tools from both traditional providers and upstarts is helping to close the gaps.

The need for leadership development has never been more urgent. Companies of all sorts realize that to survive in today’s volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous environment, they need leadership skills and organizational capabilities different from those that helped them succeed in the past. There is also a growing recognition that leadership development should not be restricted to the few who are in or close to the C-suite. With the proliferation of collaborative problem-solving platforms and digital “adhocracies” that emphasize individual initiative, employees across the board are increasingly expected to make consequential decisions that align with corporate strategy and culture. It’s important, therefore, that they be equipped with the relevant technical, relational, and communication skills.

Whom do you know, and what can they teach you?

  • MM Mihnea Moldoveanu is the Marcel Desautels Professor of Integrative Thinking, a professor of economic analysis, and director of the Desautels Centre for Integrative Thinking and of Rotman Digital at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.
  • DN Das Narayandas is the Edsel Bryant Ford Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School.

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Leadership and Management Reflective Essay

The development of leadership skills is very important because they help to achieve both personal and professional success. At the same time, often people faces difficulties with the development of their leadership skills and abilities. In this regard, it is important to focus on the development of an effective leadership style that can help an individual in their professional and personal development. The development of leadership skills should be an integral part of education of students because students should learn different leadership roles. The latter will help students to be flexible, while applying their leadership skills and abilities and they will be able to use the most effective leadership style. Thus, students will be effective leaders. As for me, I am currently inclined to use transformational leadership style, which I believe to be particularly effective in the health care environment where I am currently working in.

Today, the role of leaders is extremely important for the successful performance of various organizations. At the same time, the effective application of leadership qualities highly depends on the approach used by leaders to their associates and subordinates. Among the variety of approaches existing in the contemporary business environment, transformational leadership is one of the most popular and widely spread approaches, which is considered by many specialists (Northouse, 2001) as highly prospective. In this respect, it is important to underline that the transformational leadership has not only benefits but it may have certain risks which can threaten to the normal development and performance of the organization, where this approach is applied.

At the same time, through the development of positive interpersonal relationships with associates, the contemporary leader can implement the full potential of his or her leadership because associates, being highly valued by the leader, grow more confident in the leader and, simultaneously, they feel more responsible for their own performance. To put it more precisely, the associates do their best to maintain the positive performance in order to avoid changing the attitude of the leader and to feel valued by the leader (Dessler, 2004). In such a way, the associates are conscious of their importance to the organization and its leader.

Furthermore, along with the growing responsibility of the associates, their productivity and effectiveness of their work grow too that also produces a positive impact on the development and performance of the organization. In such a way, the transformational approach can be use effectively used in order to improve the relationship of the leader and his or her subordinates and to improve the performance of the organization.

However, it is necessary to remember about certain risks that accompany the implementation of the transformational approach. To put it more precisely, the transformational leader can face a problem of the adequate treatment of him or her as a leader. What is meant here is the fact that often transformational leaders are perceived by their associates as personalities above all, while their leadership position is treated as secondary compared to their personal traits (Hesselbein and Cohen, 1999).  As a result, the leader can undermine his or her authority as a leader, while his or her personal qualities become of the utmost importance for his or her relationship with the associates. Also, the application of the transformational approach may lead to the abuse of power. Using the transformational approach the leader can use his or her power to manipulate his or her assoicates, forcing them to do tasks as a personal service to the respectable leader. Alternatively, the associates can use their good relationship with the in their own interest to achieve personal goals. Such effects of the use of transformational approach may produce a negative impact on the performance of the entire organization.

Nevertheless, the aforementioned difficulties the transformational leader can encounter while applying the transformational approach, it is still possible to overcome all these problems through the use of various factors that can be applied in terms of the transformational approach. To put it more precisely, the transformational leader can have an idealized influence on his or her associates. In such a context, the leader is an exemplary model for his or her associates and it is up to the leader what model his or her associates learn. In other words, if the transformational leader does not abuse the power and shows a positive example than his or her associates are likely to follow this positive example and they are likely to follow his or her model of behavior in their professional work.

At the same time, it is important for a leader to keep distance between him or her and his or her associates in order to maintain formal relationship. In fact, interpersonal relations should be rather intertwined into professional relations than substitute them that will lead to the perception of a leader’s personal trait as superior to his or her leader’s trait.

However, in spite of all my efforts to use transformational leadership style, I still face certain difficulties with the implementation of this leadership style in my professional work. In this respect, I should say that I am inclined to the authoritarian leadership style and I have to cope with my internal inclinations to develop new, more effective leadership style. In addition, I am working in quite stressful environment that raises certain barriers to the development of the transformational leadership style. In fact, I have to cope with stressful factors to avoid conflicts with my colleagues and clients. In this regard, conflicts may be a serious threat to my leadership style.

Taking into consideration the aforementioned problems and barriers, I have developed the plan which, I expect, can help me to overcome all the difficulties I am currently facing. Firstly, I will focus on learning the conflict management strategies that will help me to avoid conflicts in my professional relationships. Secondly, I will need to change my leadership style and refuse from authoritarian elements in my leadership style. For this purpose, I will study transformational leadership style in details and probably I will ask for advice of a psychologist who can help me to change my leadership style. Finally, I will need to establish a system of control over my progress. I am mainly focused on self-control using the self-efficacy assessment. In such a way, I will define my efficacy in the change of my leadership style.

Thus, in conclusion, it should be said that the application of transformational approach may be very prospective for the improvement of the performance of the organization and organization culture, but it is important to apply this approach very carefully in order to avoid its possible negative effects. The transformational leadership style is particularly effective in health care environment and I believe that I will use this style effectively in my professional work. However, to change my leadership style effectively, I will need to implement accurately the plan I have developed above.


Brown, D. C. (2003). Leading complex change. New York: Touchstone. Dessler, G.  (2004). Management: principles and practices for tomorrows’ leaders (3rd ed.). New Jersey: Upper Saddle River. Hesselbein, Frances, and Paul M. Cohen. (1999). Leader to leader . San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers. Northouse, Peter G. (2001). Leadership theory and practice , second edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc. Walton, Sam and John Huey. (1996). Sam Walton: Made in America: My story . Canada: Bantam Books.

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leadership development reflection essay

Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University

Leadership Careers Dec 2, 2016

How self-reflection can make you a better leader, setting aside 15 minutes a day can help you prioritize, prepare, and build a stronger team.

This audio is powered by Spokn.

Harry M. Kraemer

Michael Meier

Your company is expanding into China. Your most trusted team member put her notice in this morning. And your desk resembles a second-grade science experiment run amok.

As you frantically consider where to throw your attention, are you in the mood to reflect on what’s driving your behavior? To analyze your larger goals? To consider what got you into this situation and how you might avoid it in the future?

Probably not.

“The usual reaction is, ‘Well, I’ll just go faster,’” says Harry Kraemer , clinical professor of strategy at the Kellogg School and former CEO of multibillion-dollar healthcare company Baxter International. But that’s mistaking activity for productivity. And productivity demands self-reflection.

Self-Reflection in Leadership

Kraemer would know. For thirty-seven years—ever since he was unexpectedly duped into attending a spiritual retreat with his future father-in-law—he has made a nightly ritual of self-reflection. “Every day,” he emphasizes. Stepping back from the fray is how Kraemer, once the manager of 52,000 employees, avoided “running around like a chicken with his head cut off.”

Instead of constant acceleration, Kraemer says, leadership demands periods of restraint and consideration, even—perhaps especially—during a crisis. Leaders must regularly turn off the noise and ask themselves what they stand for and what kind of an example they want to set.

“Self-reflection is not spending hours contemplating your navel,” Kraemer says. “No! It’s: What are my values, and what am I going to do about it? This is not some intellectual exercise. It’s all about self-improvement, being self-aware, knowing myself, and getting better.”

Kraemer offers three ways that periodic self-reflection can strengthen leadership, as well as some of his favorite prompts.

8 Daily Self-Examination Questions

  • What did I say I was going to do today in all dimensions of my life?
  • What did I actually do today?
  • What am I proud of?
  • What am I not proud of?
  • How did I lead people?
  • How did I follow people?
  • If I lived today over again, what would I have done differently?
  • If I have tomorrow (and I am acutely aware that some day I won’t), based on what I learned today, what will I do tomorrow in all dimensions of my life?

Adapted from Harrykraemer.org

Know Your Priorities—and Where You Fall Short

Anybody in a managerial position has two basic responsibilities: prioritize what must be done, and allocate resources to get those things done efficiently. “But how can you possibly prioritize or allocate if you haven’t figured out what really matters?” Kraemer asks.

Self-reflection allows leaders to understand what is important, and focus on what might be done differently.

Kraemer described an experience at Baxter where the company was focused on increasing its growth rate. Other firms were making acquisitions right and left, while Baxter was not. “So we stepped back,” says Kraemer, “and asked, if we want to grow externally, what are other companies doing that we aren’t?” It turned out that the companies that were growing successfully had diverted resources from their core operations to establish large business-development departments. Baxter at the time had a much smaller department. But until taking time to research and reflect on the matter, “we didn’t realize we needed a larger team of people who could fully dedicate themselves to this issue,” he says.

Of course, after priorities have been defined, it is important for action to follow. To prevent a gulf between word and deed, Kraemer writes out his self-reflection each night, creating a record of what he has done and what he says he will do. He also checks continuously with family, friends, and close colleagues to ensure he is holding himself accountable and “not living in some fantasy land.”

Minimize Surprise

Members of the United States military are excellent role models for self-reflection in leadership, Kraemer says. They forecast and plan obsessively in order to do one thing—minimize surprise. “If the president of the United States calls and says, ‘I want an aircraft carrier in the Middle East,’ and the aircraft carrier gets there and all of a sudden it gets bombed, the military isn’t saying, ‘Oh, what are we going to do? We got bombed!’” he points out. “They’ve already thought that that might happen.” Likewise, while running Baxter, where he oversaw multiple chemical-processing and manufacturing plants around the world, “I wasn’t surprised if there was a fire in one of those plants or if something blew up,” he says. Quality, safety, and compliance standards are, of course, essential to minimizing the possibility of disaster. “But we were self-reflective enough to realize that it could happen. So, when it did happen, we weren’t confused,” he says. “We dealt with it.”

Of course, forecasting has its limits. For instance, COVID-19 has caught even the most self-aware leaders by surprise. But self-reflection need not mitigate only out-of-the-blue disasters; it also prepares leaders for more routine, but no less insidious disappointments. As head of a publicly traded company, for instance, Kraemer knew that not every quarterly performance was going to be positive. “To assume that performance is going to go up every single quarter—that’s not really logical. And by the way, when the drop does happen, what are you going to do about it?”

Preparation has the added benefit of reducing anxiety about the possibility of things going wrong, says Kraemer. “What keeps you up at night? I used to say, ‘I have a multibillion-dollar company…’ Now I say, ‘Nothing keeps me awake. If it takes me a while to go to sleep, I’ll just read another book.”

“If I’m going to help you develop as a leader, one of the first things I’m going to try to do is to help you understand the tremendous benefit of self-reflection.”

Build Stronger Teams

Self-reflection’s effects go beyond the self, Kraemer points out: “If I don’t know myself, is it possible for me to lead myself? I doubt that. If I can’t lead myself, how could I possibly lead other people?”

Learn more from Harry Kraemer in the Kellogg Executive Education Enterprise Leadership Program .

Strong leaders, he says, not only practice self-reflection themselves; they also encourage their teams to do so. “I have a responsibility to develop every single person I touch,” says Kraemer. And of course, a self-reflective team is a team that has its priorities straight and arrives prepared to deal with any setbacks.

So if one of his employees or students is “bouncing around like a lunatic,” he schedules a meeting with him or her to establish the value of settling down for a moment, taking a breath, and considering what’s important. “If I’m going to help you develop as a leader, one of the first things I’m going to try to do is to help you understand the tremendous benefit of self-reflection,” he says.

How can leaders get themselves, and their teams, practicing self-reflection? Kraemer does not prescribe a specific process; how a person reflects, he says, is a personal matter. (In this article, however, he shares some of his favorite prompts.)

But Kraemer is adamant that leaders—and leaders-to-be—carve self-reflection into their daily routine. It takes only 15 minutes, and can be done while taking a walk, gardening, or sipping a cup of coffee. “The reason many, many people have trouble balancing their lives is that they have not been self-reflective enough to figure out what they’re trying to balance,” he says. “You might say, ‘Boy, my spouse is really, really important to me.’ But do you spend time with her? Or do you assume you’re too busy? Is spending time with her a priority or isn’t it a priority?”

Still convinced you cannot fit self-reflection on your calendar ? That’s often an excuse to avoid an uncomfortable exercise, he says.

“There could be a pretty big difference between what you say is important and what you’re actually doing, and you may not want to confront that.”

Clinical Professor of Management & Organizations

About the Writer Dylan Walsh is a freelance writer based in Chicago.

Reflecting on Leadership, Leading, and Leaders

  • First Online: 18 November 2022

Cite this chapter

Book cover

  • Carole J. Elliott 3  

494 Accesses

To develop responsible leadership practice for equitable organizations, societies require continuous critical scrutiny of the sociohistorical conditions that shape leadership. Critical HRD scholarship and practice accept a responsibility to question accepted leadership norms, and to propose alternatives to leadership practice that sustain asymmetries of power. Informed by the critical leadership studies literature, this chapter proposes the framework of People, Place, and Process as a critical lens that critical HRD scholars can adopt and adapt when researching leadership or developing leadership capacity in a range of contexts. The chapter concludes by proposing tools and learning practices that critical HRD scholars can employ to promote cycles of critical reflexivity helpful in challenging traditional assumptions and beliefs about leadership.

  • Critical leadership studies
  • Critical HRD
  • Asymmetries of power
  • Qualitative methodologies

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Elliott, C.J. (2023). Reflecting on Leadership, Leading, and Leaders. In: Collins, J.C., Callahan, J.L. (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of Critical Human Resource Development. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-10453-4_14

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Leadership Experience and Reflection

Introduction, leadership experience, personal reflection, reference list.

Within this reflective treatise, I intend to explicitly evaluate my leadership skills and behaviors. Specifically, I will concentrate on my strengths such as being a good participator and action-oriented leader. I will also reflect on the best strategies I should employ to improve my situational leadership abilities by balancing path and goal areas of my behavior and thinking. In the end, I will present an action plan of how I will endeavor to develop the areas I noticed needed some adjustments.

I am a friendly person and I enjoy hearing about the interests of other people by encouraging them to speak. I ask questions about myself and I enjoy creating a lively interaction environment. I have always enjoyed talking with people but I find myself interested in what they have to say when faced with a situation. I have found myself to be a good listener because I don’t interrupt people when they are speaking. Apparently, this has become one of my greatest strengths as a proactive participator. In several circumstances, I have tested my listening skills through continuous personal engagement in different leadership application environments.

For instance, as an aspiring leader, I have always found myself in different situations that require proactive participation in decision making to ensure that the end result is ideal. In one of such situations, I was able to guide a charged interactive meeting into an objective and result-oriented forum. In the end, I realized that my inner ability to accommodate different opinions without prejudice was very consistent.

In the Leadership Assessment Competency, my main weaknesses are coaching and instructing, developing external contacts, and helping the community. I haven’t had much experience with coaching and I need to work on being better at coaching. When it comes to developing external contacts, I am very friendly to others but I have some trouble with networking and staying in contact with people within my social cycle. Specifically, Tyson (2008) opined that the elements of dependency within conscious and unconscious tenets are critical towards understanding expectations and possible challenges (Tyson 2008).

I have discovered from Tyson’s theory that I am an abstract conceptualizer. This means that I learn by thinking, analyzing, and planning before I do anything. For example, when I was faced with the challenge of making a decision on whether to attend a certain peer group meeting or not, I had to think about it, analyze it, and then I felt comfortable to attend since the organizers were people I liked. This means that I am a very analytical person. My strongest skills are interpersonal; I am a good listener, I build strong alliances, and I am concerned about people (Devito 2006).

I identify with the path goal theory proposed by Tyson. This is a leadership theory that I want to continue to improve on and use as a leader in the future. The path-goal theory is about how leaders motivate subordinates to accomplish goals (Tyson, 2004). It is based upon the expectancy theory, using the expectancy beliefs such as, “if I try harder I will perform better”, “if I perform better rewards will follow”; instrumentality belief, and “I value the rewards available”.

According to Payne (2006), leadership motivates when it makes the path to the goal clear, easy to reach, provide coaching, remove obstacles, and make the work itself personally satisfying. I have used this leadership theory in the past as a leader at my church by rewarding youths in my bible class who have studied the passages assigned to them. I have rewarded them with food, gift cards, and used positive reinforcement. I have found these rewards to work well. The strength of this theory is that it “reminds leaders of their purpose, which is to guide and coach employees as they move along the path to achieve a goal” (Devito 2006, p. 34).

Basing on the leadership practice inventory (LPI) assessment that I have undergone during the performance of different duties on a daily basis, the practice enabled me to develop the following three personal competencies. First, I should be a role model. I need to develop self-confidence by elucidating my own individual values. I should set good examples by conforming to the shared values of the community. Secondly, I need to enliven a common vision.

Indeed, I should visualize the future through perceiving to achieve pleasant and excellent possibilities (Tyson 2004). In addition, I should interact with various people to achieve common objectives that are important in group activities. Thirdly, I should learn through challenging inspirations. In fact, I should struggle to get opportunities and whatever I need in life as a way to develop and grow positively.

Moreover, other people like to take risks in order to learn through experimentation. According to McShane and Travaglione (2005), learning is made possible by making mistakes. These elements were possible since I was able to balance my Psyche ID and Superego as discussed by Bass (2008). As an aspiring leader, I found this experience very instrumental in balancing the expectations and my private thoughts into a pattern of continuous ability to remain focused.

The series of dynamics that interacted between my inner self and the environment in the phase leadership mode experienced a metamorphosis as the unconscious choices began to take shape when I started the process of learning how to practice change a tire. Since I was the leader, there were a lot of expectations from my family members to provide motivation and inspiration (Tyson 2008). As a result, my role was firmly established and I was able to connect the vision, mission, and values of the family members to the individual values and needs. This gave us a better picture of the purpose and how each member can contribute to that purpose (Burns 2008).

Expressing loyalty is a noble act showing a sense of worth and gives meaning to life. However, it is not an easy task; it comes with lots of challenges as some people are naturally rebellious. I learned that in spite of the prodigious challenges leaders go through; they can still inspire loyalty and effort in their team since they trust that the decision made by the leader is in the best interest of the group at heart (McShane & Travaglione 2005). This motivates the followers to work hard knowing that the achievement will be bigger than them. It also creates a culture in the group because members feel they have shared values and beliefs (Tyson 2008).

The knowledge is promoted by the ART model proposed by Tyson (2004) to explicitly review the link between task and role as enshrined in the tenet of authority. To inspire loyalty and effort, I learned that I have to be a good communicator. I have to seek opportunities to communicate. At the same time, I attempted to increase the volume and frequency of communication. Having in mind that 90% of communication is not about what you say but how you say it; I was able to communicate with passion, humility, and enthusiasm in line with leadership aspirations (Bennis and Goldsmith 2003).

Being in a position to offer personal authority is often motivated by past and present experiences, situational factors, and skills within the structure of a group. Using simple words such as ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ has a great impact to inspire the team. Maintaining eye contact, having a relaxed body, and using a warm tone of voice does have an immense impact on the team members. As a leader, I can never be egocentric since it is not about me but about others.

I have to listen to everyone since this encourages them and I also gain great ideas and insight as well (Feist and Feist 2006). In expectations management, I learned that one has to remain consistent by matching his or her words and actions. As opined by Nelson-Jones (2005), beliefs should match with actions as well as my results. With consistency, everyone will see what you believe in. Every person has to be clear about his or her beliefs and make them known. At the same time, they have to remain disciplined and accountable to their own values and guiding principles (Nelson-Jones 2005). This aspect has greatly inspired my ability as a good listener.

I discovered that leadership has to be clear in the job description so that every subject knows the expectations for every day. In order to be successful, I have to proactively prepare personal insight to ensure that the outcome matches any expectations. These should then be communicated with regards to what is supposed to be done and setting out clear guidelines to be followed in order to limit space for vagueness or the contradiction of roles. This would show that the rules and regulations set down apply to everybody including me. This indicates that a good leader is consistent (Nelson-Jones 2005).

LPI assessment is important because it enables a person to perceive how people evaluate his or her leadership skills. Actually, LPI has helped me to be an effective team player. This is a self-assessment strategy that enabled me to inquire about people’s opinions in order to compare their suggestions with my perspectives as a way to improve my personality and leadership skills (Hellriegel & Slocum 2011). For instance, during the role allocation stage, I managed to control the tension and possible conflict that was growing within me since I am rarely interested in the technical parts of any task. I decided to take this part since the conscious and subconscious choices within my personality were well balanced (Sockeley-Zalabak 2011).

As opined by Tyson (2004), past experiences may have a direct influence on the roles of an individual. I learned that LPI assesses human acts that people utilize when interacting with different peoples (Tyson 2004). This assessment is helpful especially for leaders who intend to know how they influence people and how to communicate effectively. In addition, leadership skills are normally influenced by situational and personal experiences. First, I have to build an attitude of encouragement is important in a group (Tyson 2008). Actually, people should appreciate and encourage positive contributions. Secondly, I have to share objectives since they guide a person to embrace desired outcomes while discouraging unfavorable attitudes.

Personal experiences are based on three aspects. First, my past experiences influence people to be aware of which human acts have a positive outcome. Secondly, my personal attitude usually influences people on how to interact with me. Lastly, my self-esteem enabled me to develop inner strength in carrying out various actions (Arslan & Staub 2013). I was able to apply the principle of self-assessment when making general statements to minimize ideological variances. As the weeks progressed, my management approach was maturing at a slower rate than my participatory leadership style since my subconscious mind had placed the management approach within the tenet of experimentation (West 2006; Nelson-Jones 2005).

As opined by Greenleaf (2002), a challenging experience normally compels a person to examine his attitude. Indeed, an individual will attempt to improve his approach to resolve a challenge (Greenleaf 2002). I only realized the steady consequence of my leadership approach in the stage of accomplishing the unit synergy testing exercise. I discovered that it is possible to change toxic followers through interpersonal assessment. The interpersonal assessment examines human acts that people utilize when interacting with different peoples. This assessment is helpful especially for leaders who intend to know how they influence people and how to communicate effectively (Wren 2005).

Self-leadership psychology theorists overtly argue that cognition alters task orientation behavior. Specifically, the discursive approach in explaining and exploring shared and coordinated actions on roles and channels through which an individual’s framework functions in the exchange of information formally is of great essence towards understanding task orientation level (Hacker & Tammy 2004). Despite task orientation being rated as a high self-leadership assessment strategy, my action planning is of the essence to create a solution-oriented task and strategy implementation secession for quantifying task orientation levels as I discovered during the assignment activity review (Fishbein 2007). Thus, I was able to achieve synergy since I offered efficient leadership.

Adopting the model of development processes, my task orientation leadership skills on an individual task management level encompassed actual and expected outcomes. Through designing personal task management model levels, my task orientation module was activated towards developing dependence of interest attached to an activity, creating proactive relationships, and monitoring their interaction with physical and psychological health.

Eventually, this paid off since I learned to appreciate the essence of tolerance and the need to stay active when interacting with other people consisting of different personalities (West 2006). I should improve on excessive independence and intra and interpersonal communication since the two influence the level of task orientation with the third party (Kidd 2006). In fact, I find it difficult to challenge some people for their habit of showing up late for appointments due to the fear of being rejected.

As the weeks progressed, my basic assumptions of people were replaced by an interactive process which was characterized by a mature exchange between the containers (members) and the projector (leader) to steer the valence in line with Bion’s work group model (Tyson 2004). In order to achieve transformational leadership, it was vital for me to recognize the presence of the vice of postponing activities. This should be followed by creating a strategy to address the possible causes of indecisiveness. Through prioritizing and proper scheduling of activities, it was easy for me to manage this leadership module (Eriksen 2009).

At present, I am implementing transformational leadership strategies and have been successful in time management and limiting unpleasant detractors such as lateness, diverted attention, and discussion of private issues during meetings. I have been successful in self-reward creation (Wren 2005). However, the main challenge was to identify an independent reviewer of personal transformational leadership initiatives since I sometimes failed to make sure that other people are committed to a course of action.

I discovered that situational leadership engages in an active process of learning through promotion, facilitation, and rewarding collective learning results in the practical arena. The three building blocks of situational leadership include learning intrapersonal performance; supportive learning environment, concrete learning processes, and practice leadership that reinforces performance (Baxter 2014). Through using the diagnostic tools, I was able to assess the areas of personal situational leadership that require urgent improvement moving the person closer to an ideal leadership sphere (West 2006).

Self-initiative in situational leadership plays a significant role in setting up the leadership environment for situational occurrence management from external factors (Hui-Wen et al. 2010). My self guided approach is based on collaborative procedures that involve designing specific leadership experiences to organize situational management goals on how to monitor automatic response; recognize the relationship between these responses and cognition ways to test the validity of the relationships, and measures to apply to substitute the distorted thoughts with more realistic situational redress (Andreadis 2009).

Since research methods focus on the development of a range of skills that are designed to help the individual to cope with a variety of life situations, they remain indispensable to the personal initiatives I had internalized in practicing a proactive balance in self situational leadership management within the conscious decision-making process to remain active (West 2006). Despite the commitment to direct my skills towards proactive leadership, I had to deal with the challenge of balancing personal perceptions and realities that exist in task management. I have realized that I have the valence of leadership in LPI since I was able to handle personal fears.

I have been successful in applying the three types of leadership styles involving a realization that a challenge exists, the transformation of this challenge into a development goal after which implementation step concludes by developing a solution to the challenge. However, there is a need for improvement in keeping my situational management parameters within the goals and duties at hand (Avolio 2010). Common hurdles in leadership management include internal and external influences that slow down productivity and the ability to proactively handle challenges of the assignment (West 2006).

Therefore, it is factual that productive leadership is directly and positively proportional to the productivity level exhibited in an individual. In my view, it is important to minimize these hurdles to promote and encourages goal achievement within a set plan. I am currently monitoring counterproductive behavior as the negative parameter which limits leadership productivity as a result of these hurdles. Generally, this unsolicited behavior is often associated with ineffective performance (West 2006).

In order to understand the impacts of productive and counterproductive leadership on performance and productivity, my strength has been the ability to establish the scope and characteristics of each behavior module associate with leadership huddles (Casimir & Waldman 2007). However, the strategy requires a systematic and periodic review of the parameters of professionalism, organization, respect, optimal performance, and discipline.

Unfortunately, these indicators are difficult to quantify. Therefore, my productive leadership behavior stresses the need for active cooperation between personality and the roles assigned in the planning and execution of the set targets for the assigned roles within the parameters of situational leadership, task-person orientation, and transformational leadership (Chen, Tsui, & Farh 2002).

Despite task orientation being rated as a high self-leadership assessment strategy, my action planning is of importance to create a solution-oriented task and strategy implementation secession for quantifying task orientation levels (Powell 2005).

Through designing personal task management model levels, my task orientation module has remained active in developing dependence of interest attached to an activity, creating proactive relationships, and monitoring their interaction with physical and psychological health. Eventually, it has paid off since I have learned to appreciate the essence of tolerance and the necessity to stay active. However, I should improve on excessive independence, intra, and interpersonal communication since the two influence the level of task orientation with the third party (Lipgar 2006).

Specifically, transformational leadership identifies a range of problematic situations an individual faces in his or her social environment and generates multiple alternative solutions to those problems. I had to lay a series of procedures that are necessary to achieve desired results rather than postponing response strategies. I have been successful in time management and reducing unpleasant distractions. I have been successful in self-reward creation.

However, the main challenge was to identify an independent reviewer of personal transformational leadership initiatives (Cardenas & Crabtree 2009). I would suggest an improvement in the urgent matrix for duties since it doesn’t remain constant in different situations (Kouzes and Posner 2002). My situational leadership has engaged an active process of learning remaining active, focused, and result-oriented in accomplishing different duties. I am a motivator towards situational leadership management (Wren 2005).

Conclusively, the learning experience and group assignment reaffirmed my leadership skills and ability to manage group dynamics. Apparently, the theories discussed confirm that I am a focused, task-oriented, and participatory leader. However, I need to make adjustments in my situational management parameters within goals and duties at hand since reflection reveals that I not consistent in this area.

I need to be more realistic and accommodative to ensure that I remain sober when handling different situations related to leadership development. In order to make this improvement, I have proposed to enroll in a self-awareness class to acquire the basic skills required to make decisions under pressure and in dynamic environments.

The class will run for the fourth month. During this period, I will create a successful benchmarking blueprint by evaluating my performance through the creation of controlled experiments for testing my performance under pressure. I expect to improve the parameter of situational leadership management after four months of training. I will determine the success of training upon the results at the beginning and the end of the fourth month period. I am hopeful that the adjustment progress will be satisfactory.

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  • http://orcid.org/0000-0001-6032-3387 Yang Chen
  • Institute of Cardiovascular Science , UCL , London , UK
  • Correspondence to Dr Yang Chen, Institute of Cardiovascular Science, UCL, London WC1E 6DD, UK; ychen89{at}cantab.net

Background In July 2020, the National Health Service (NHS) People Plan was refreshed, giving further impetus to staff development and leadership training. Through a series of interwoven tales, I discuss my own journey of leadership development and offer an analysis of the value of dedicated courses and the importance of providing this to the wider workforce.

Story of self I am a doctor in training and was among the first three cohorts placed onto the new Rosalind Franklin programme, organised by the NHS Leadership Academy. I share my key reflections of the impact of this course on my personal and professional development.

Story of us My cohort contained professionals from a diverse range of backgrounds—their challenges, views and insights contrasted greatly with my own. Having the protected time to build trust, form teams and discuss issues that crossed organisational boundaries provided novel insights that helped all of us.

Story of now As the COVID-19 pandemic has taken hold, we are in a state of extreme flux. As a result, I have become aware of how important it is to marry expertise with generalist skills and knowledge of the wider healthcare system. Enduring the initial surge of COVID-19 was about staff working together and blending specialism with generalist pragmatism. The ability to harness and sustain this type of working will represent a legacy from COVID-19 that is positive and one which galvanises our greatest asset—the talents and experiences of our diverse workforce—in order to meet future healthcare challenges.

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This article is made freely available for use in accordance with BMJ’s website terms and conditions for the duration of the covid-19 pandemic or until otherwise determined by BMJ. You may use, download and print the article for any lawful, non-commercial purpose (including text and data mining) provided that all copyright notices and trade marks are retained.


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Mirror mirror on the wall

I graduated in 2013 with a clear vision of where I wanted to go with my career (in those days, I was even tenacious enough to say aloud that I wanted to become an ‘Academic Cardiologist’).

Working as a junior doctor was a shock to the system. Gone were the summative assessments, rote memorisation of facts and certainty in what was right or wrong in clinical scenarios. Instead, I had to adapt to working with a diverse group of people from different backgrounds, constant rotation changes and decision-making in the face of uncertainty. 1 Soon into my first few placements, what I thought were the fundamentals of being ‘good at my job’—content expertise and efficiency of communication—expanded to include qualities that were previously in my blind spots. A few humbling moments along the way helped to accelerate my learning about the value of more personable qualities such as empathy, kindness and sharing an inspired purpose.

By 2017, I had achieved the milestone of being awarded an Integrated Academic Training number in Cardiology. My younger self would have looked in the mirror and prematurely concluded ‘all is well, and everything is going according plan’. However, my lived experiences of working with different people had already made me consider whether this plan was the all-encompassing one that I should exclusively follow.

Changing the angle of view

I started to challenge my assumption that developing into ‘a good doctor and leader’ would automatically follow through completing a specialist training programme and a higher research degree. I realised that I wanted a broader system-level view of the National Health Service (NHS) and by serendipity of timing, I saw that a new leadership course was available aimed at aspiring leaders.

The Rosalind Franklin programme delivered by the NHS Leadership Academy represented a leadership opportunity that was experiential and integrated within existing job schedules. 2

The programme—9 months of distance learning mixed with face-to-face workshops—was unlike any I had experienced. The curated resources, my fellow course colleagues and facilitators, and the opportunity to try and test different approaches at my usual work environment were a career highlight.

I now share the most salient reflections during my leadership development, analyse the key literature which helped frame my learning and consider how such a dedicated course could be useful not just for doctors in training but the wider healthcare workforce.

Beyond matters of the heart

My early experiences of leadership were probably typical of a motivated junior doctor. In a rush to be useful and in the narrative of junior doctors as agents of change, 3 I signed up to perhaps too many projects in my first few years. One of the biases that I developed while trying to be an ‘agent of change’ was a tribal mentality around working with a certain type or group of people (usually academic researchers or aspiring cardiologists). The drawback of working with people with similar views—homophily—was recently described by Matthew Syed in his book Rebel Ideas. 4 This was brought to my attention during the Rosalind Franklin programme when we undertook a project analysis using the NHS sustainability model. 5 The blind spots in the analysis which my usual work colleagues and I conducted were highlighted within minutes by fellow Rosalind Franklin participants.

When the concept of a Johari window 6 ( table 1 ) was subsequently introduced, I found this to be a particularly powerful way of framing task and project analysis. Crucially, I realised that what is ‘known to others’ will be different depending on their individual backgrounds and lived experience.

  • View inline

Example of a Johari window which I made during Module 2: Taking stock , Rosalind Franklin Programme

Protected time

After the first few Rosalind Franklin sessions, I reflected on the impact to my leadership style of having dedicated time to explore such concepts that would never have ordinarily arisen in my daily practice. I recognised that being focused on doing things in a singular way and canvassing a limited range of views missed the key element of both collaboration and self-development that I could harness if I broadened my outlook and networks. The importance of having explicitly protected time to receive formal leadership training and to reflect on its impact is outlined in the popular 70:20:10 model of leadership development 7 ( table 2 ).

The 70:20:10 model of leadership development

By being on the Rosalind Franklin programme, and having the commodity of protected time to engage in guided exploration and reflection, I was able to leverage my day-to-day experiences in a way I had not done so before. A culinary analogy used by Health Education England (HEE) in their ‘ Leadership Development for doctors in postgraduate medical training ’ 8 publication is a particularly powerful one:

the 10% is like salt, you don’t need much, but the 70% and 20% don’t make much sense without it

Leadership and followership

One example of the importance of ‘adding the salt’ was when the concept of the shadow system was introduced. This is a term coined by Ralph Stacey 9 to describe the informal network of relationships within organisations, evident in casual corridor or canteen conversations that are actually the ways used to ‘get things done’. Coming from an especially hierarchical medical specialty, I had used the shadow system to gain influence in ways not afforded to me through title alone. For example, working with peers to create small networks of influence locally as well as collaborating on larger national projects. 10 Gaining explicit knowledge of this framework has helped to strengthen my understanding of how to lead more effectively, using contexts that I can directly lead and influence and acknowledging others where followership and the buy-in of key stakeholders are required.

I additionally reflected on the power of titles and stereotypes: for doctors in training or junior doctors, those words alone may confer a lack of credibility. When speaking to colleagues at work, some of whom were in their late 30s with over a decade of clinical experience, this seemed a general source of frustration and a view shared by fellows at the Faculty for Medical Leadership and Management. 11

So how do ‘junior doctors’ overcome these barriers which can impede their ability to effect change?

From my own experiences, I have noticed the transformative power of acquiring more familiarity with leadership and management literature including the concepts mentioned above. However, I reflected on the motivation necessary to engage with such literature—a nudge from an extrinsic driver such a leadership course was needed. While I was more comfortable reading reports from randomised clinical trials and registries, I began to see how impactful different types of research could be. The Healthcare Leadership model 12 used by many NHS organisations is perhaps the best example of a distillation of decades of theory into a pragmatic, useable framework. My own detailed 360° report has stuck with me in a way that other ‘traditional research headlines’ have not: it catalysed a crucible moment where I realised that ‘knowing the most’ about something did not necessarily mean leading with a certain style or even, as an individual, leading at all.

At the end of the course workshop, a topic that our group discussed was how to make leadership training more inclusive. When I first met my fellow Rosalind Franklin candidates in July 2019, we discussed the irony of knowing individuals from our own workplaces who were not there and who were perhaps most in need of such a programme.

A time for role models, not heroes

As I write this, we are in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. I have seen first-hand how in times of such crises, people naturally look towards recognised leaders. At my own hospital, our Chief Registrar and a fellow doctor in training has been a voice of calmness, answering questions and directing fellow clinicians to appropriate sources of information, demonstrating the many traits of Kolditz’s theory of successful leadership in extremis. 13

On a personal note, I have taken many elements of what I had learnt during my leadership journey and applied it over the past few months—for instance I feel I am better anchored and more resilient to stress and also a better role model for others. In particular, I recognised that the plurality of views and reactions to COVID-19 within my workplace meant that I needed to be more open and engaging with others, to better signpost people to recognised sources of help when they needed it or to empower team members with ad hoc coaching conversations.

Thus, while the evidence base for the value of leadership development is mixed, 14 one must caution in the heterogeneity of study designs and the framing of what it means when ‘leadership courses work’—my own experiences during the COVID-19 surge is that many positive actions may not necessarily be captured and a more holistic view about what ‘valuable’ leadership means should be argued for.

In light of the recent publication of the NHS People Plan , as well as the Future Doctor Programme commissioned by HEE, 15 16 I am optimistic that system leaders have recognised this point and also the impetus that COVID-19 has provided to upgrade leadership training for all clinicians.

The pandemic may even catalyse a reframing of what leadership encompasses in the future. Small behaviours that we need to role model, and those that we must fight against—such as microaggressions 17 —may not fit the traditional definition of heroism or heroic leadership—but nevertheless can cause personal and systemic ripples far greater than the sum of their parts.

I saw how during the pandemic, role modelling positive, authentic and collaborative behaviour, rather than self-orientation helped to create a culture of inclusivity that capitalised on solutions generated from diversity of thought. Unique projects such as the NHS Nightingale Hospitals were a testament to this idea, and provide for an added emphasis on learning organisational lessons that could leave an indelible mark on the NHS. The prioritisation of a just culture, a flat hierarchy and a focus on well-being 18 is an inspiring story that can help to ensure that leadership training is inclusive and imbued with those values.

The future healthcare team

From a staff development perspective, one particular quote from a series of interviews with top performing chief executives in the NHS 19 stands out in capturing perhaps the issue that would make the biggest difference for trainees:

‘You need to remain absolutely patient focused, eternally optimistic, make decisions and do difficult things: to keep your health, your nerve, your confidence and you need people around you, you need a great team’.

For the average doctor in training, who often rotates around several departments or hospitals a year, few will feel like they belong to a real team described by Michael West. 20 Real change for staff may thus start with the formation of better structures to allow real teams to emerge. My own postgraduate experiences would have echoed the above, were it not for the recent combination of participating in the Rosalind Franklin programme, and the galvanising effect of COVID-19—I now feel embedded within my hospital team and the wider healthcare system.

Moving forward, I hope we can continue to cultivate the spirit of teamwork and multidisciplinary working while also reducing the burden of a system of staff governance and progression that is currently rigid and bureaucratic. For example, anecdotal and published evidence highlight concerns about arbitrary assessments which measure clerical rather than clinical ability. 21 By adopting a more agile approach to staff development, we can realise the vision of the NHS People Plan ’s desire to ‘increase flexibility in medical training and careers, enabling doctors to develop a broader range of skills and more easily adapt to changes in service requirements and patient safety practice’. 15

As a consequence, we may find ourselves better able to generate visionary changes that can help prepare us for the future challenges to our collective health, be it multimorbidity, delivering precision medicine, or mitigating against climate change and future black swan events. 22


The author thanks the organisers of the Rosalind Franklin programme, the faculty and his cohort peers. The author also thanks the peer reviewers of this piece and the editors of BMJ Leader.

  • Nagendran M ,
  • NHS Leadership Academy
  • Winthrop C ,
  • Wilkinson I ,
  • NHS Improvement
  • Könings K ,
  • Mann KV , et al
  • Health Education England
  • British Junior Cardiologists’ Association
  • Faculty of Medical Leadership and Management
  • NHS England
  • Allwood D , et al

Twitter @DrYangChen

Contributors YC conceived the idea, and wrote and edited the manuscript.

Funding The author has not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

Competing interests None declared.

Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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5 Steps to Creating a Successful Leadership Development Plan

Female business leader speaking to team

  • 27 Nov 2019

Leadership development is a key initiative for many businesses. Organizations not only try to recruit candidates with leadership potential but cultivate their current employees’ leadership skills.

In a survey by global research and advisory firm Gartner , 60 percent of human resources executives said they’ll focus on cultivating leader and manager effectiveness for their company in 2023. In doing so, they intend to nurture the professional development of potential leaders by developing specific leadership qualities, such as authenticity, empathy, and adaptiveness—representing a new kind of “human” leadership.

Additionally, a report by the World Economic Forum projects leadership and social influence to be among the fastest-growing workplace skills through 2022, which ties into a burgeoning trend for all workers to become lifelong learners to address emerging skills gaps.

For motivated professionals who want to advance their careers and assume leadership positions, creating a leadership development plan is vital to staying ahead of the curve and rising to the demands of the job market. According to Harvard Business School Professor Ethan Bernstein, the path to effective leadership is more fluid now than in the past.

“Once upon a time, you would enter a leadership development program in a company that might put you on a 20-year track to becoming an executive,” Bernstein says. “Many of us can’t even fathom that today. But that should be freeing in that it gives us license to develop ourselves and create our own individualized leadership development plans.”

As you plot your career trajectory and consider how you can maximize your professional influence and impact, here are five steps to creating a successful leadership development plan.

How to Design Your Leadership Development Plan

1. assess where you are professionally.

Mapping your leadership development starts with understanding yourself and where you stand professionally. Taking stock of your strengths, weaknesses, and workplace tendencies can help identify areas for improvement and anticipate pitfalls that could arise on your journey to becoming a more capable leader.

“In the process of identifying how what you’ve done before may or may not make you successful going forward, you raise your awareness about how what you already know will contribute to, or undermine, your capacity to successfully lead others in the future,” Bernstein says.

Completing an assessment can be a valuable way to reflect on your motivational drivers and limitations and gain a more holistic view of your personal leadership style . Pairing self-reflection with a 360-degree assessment enables you to solicit feedback from colleagues and peers, which can provide greater insight into how others experience you. In turn, you can build and leverage a keener sense of emotional intelligence throughout your leadership development journey.

Related: 4 Tips for Developing Your Personal Leadership Style

2. Set an Attainable Goal

Goal setting is an essential component of any leadership development plan.

“Just like anything else: If you don’t know where you’re going, you’re probably not going to get there,” Bernstein says. “It sounds overly simplistic, but that summarizes why goals are important."

Bernstein teaches the PACE model, an acronym for:

  • Pick a leadership goal
  • Apprise others in your inner circle of the goal
  • Collect specific ideas on how to improve
  • Elicit feedback on how you’re doing

The PACE Model in Leadership Development

PACE is employed by learners to select leadership development goals and chart a course of action for achieving them. The first step in the process, Pick, is centered on identifying and prioritizing a goal you can strive toward to boost your professional effectiveness. When setting this goal, take an agile approach and consider both the short and long term.

“You can’t lose sight of where you’re trying to go over the span of a decade—or even a career—which is why making long-term goals is important,” Bernstein says. “But we can’t, as human beings, make progress if we make the milestones so grand and far away that they seem unachievable. A little bit of progress each day keeps the frustration at bay.”

As you define and establish your key goal, consider how you’ll measure progress along the way to ensure you stay on track.

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3. Engage in Leadership Training

Leadership training can benefit you no matter your career stage. Beyond the opportunity to gain and practice the technical skills needed to empower employees and influence others , you’re exposed to faculty and peers you can lean on for support and learn and grow from. It can also equip you for future leadership roles.

According to Bernstein, honing your leadership abilities in a classroom setting is advantageous because it provides a low-risk environment for reevaluating and fine-tuning goals when you encounter setbacks.

“It’s helpful to have a group of people—we call it your ‘inner circle’—who’ve heard and embraced your leadership goals, and whose conversations helped inform how you would go about achieving them,” Bernstein says. “In moments of challenge and relapse, you can go back to them for encouragement and courage. You can revise your goals in a safe environment because you have a level of openness and vulnerability with those people built into the course.”

4. Interact with Your Network

A professional network is one of the most valuable resources in any leader’s arsenal, so make it a point to grow yours . Throughout your leadership development journey, connecting with like-minded peers can have a positive impact by providing opportunities to employ the knowledge you’ve gained and receive feedback on your progress.

These kinds of interactions are core tenets of the online course Leadership Principles , in which learners practice delivering feedback through video exercises that allow them to evaluate their effectiveness in various business scenarios.

“Ensure your leadership development includes some interaction with other learners and also with the people who are benefitting and suffering from your current capabilities as a leader,” Bernstein says. “We try to teach people to be good protégés, as well as good leaders. It’s an ongoing process. That interaction is important in making things that seem very theoretical ultimately become very practical.”

5. Hone Your Soft Skills

Effective leadership requires a unique blend of characteristics and skills .

“There are skills you need as a leader that you don’t necessarily develop in any other context, at least in a focused way,” Bernstein says. “These include communication; career planning; knowing how to create and evaluate authentic change in a person, including yourself; and negotiating career transitions. These are things you typically won’t do many times in your career, but they will be very important to continuing your leadership trajectory.”

As you chart your leadership development plan, consider how you can bolster essential soft skills like actively listening , practicing empathy , and creating value in a negotiation to ensure you’re prepared to tackle any organizational challenges that come your way.

Leadership Principles | Unlock your leadership potential | Learn More

Developing Your Leadership Skills

Striving to become a strong, capable leader is a commitment you can make at any stage of your career —although doing so sooner means you can reap the benefits longer. By assessing where you are professionally and thinking deeply about where you want to go, you can design a leadership development plan that enables you to channel your passions and build the skills needed to be more impactful in your role.

Do you want to enhance your leadership skills? Download our free leadership e-book and explore our online course Leadership Principles to discover how you can become a more effective leader and unleash the potential in yourself and others.

This post was updated on December 21, 2022. It was originally published on November 27, 2019.

leadership development reflection essay

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