From Reflection Deficit to Mindful Reflection: Three Lenses for Reflective Practice

Our collective Covid reality has jarred us, making us reactive in ways we could not have predicted. Some are caught up in uncertainty but staying as busy as possible, projecting fear into an unknowable future, asking – when will it all end?

Others are stepping back to notice within themselves how they are experiencing this crisis. They are thinking more deeply about their relationships and connecting more than ever with the broader global community. They are asking themselves – how can I make the most of this moment?

Reflection is the linchpin of all continuous learning and development. To mature and grow as people and develop as leaders, we need ways to consciously reflect on our experiences. The payoff of reflective practice is short- and long-term, with gains in productivity and accelerated performance and growth in competence and confidence. (See related article.)

The educator, John Dewey, observed “We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience.” If research clearly shows increased performance for leaders who reflect, then why so little reflection? What gets in the way?

Here are the top reasons for the reflection deficit:

  • Busy is a badge of honor; a bias toward action rules organizations, creating cultures on the run. The seeds of reflection are washed away by activity in these environments with no chance for growing.
  • The time doesn’t exist to indulge in reflection. The limited mindset, not supported by research, that simply learning by doing, and doing more and more, increases productivity and performance leads to a devaluing of reflection time.
  • Reflection takes deliberate effort, attention, and presence. Though it’s a natural capacity we all have, leaders have not, for the most part, learned how to reflect.
  • We live in a distraction-filled world, with technology consuming our attention and the pace of change making it extremely difficult to focus and reflect.

Building a Reflective Practice – Tri-Lens Mindful Reflection Model™

We have developed the Tri-Lens Reflection Model© to provide an intuitive and practical approach for leaders to develop a reflective practice. The model is built on a foundation that includes leadership and organizational theory and practice, neuroscience, as well as my own experience as a leadership consultant, executive coach, and coach supervisor.

At the center of the model is Attention and Presence. Attention is both voluntary and intentional; we can grow this type through mindfulness training. Attention is also automatic and unconscious, always at work in the background.

Presence is our embodied awareness, our access to the present moment through our sensing bodies and attentive minds. It’s a space of deep awareness and connection to ourselves, others, and the world.

The center is our grounding space where Being (Presence) and Doing (Attention) come together. From here we can focus our attention and embody presence to look out and reflect through any of the three lenses, individually or together.

Tri-Lens Mindful Reflection Model™

A Way to Mindful Reflection

According to Donald Schon in his paper, The Reflective Practitionerreflecting on action is a deliberate looking back at events to evaluate our experiences and capture learning. Reflecting in action is the process of consciously interacting with events as they unfold to learn on the fly and change their course in real time.

Mindful reflection increases leadership effectiveness. We take stock of our past actions and mindfully observe our moment-to-moment behaviors and experience through three lenses.

Attention and Presence Within:

This lens is the view into our relationship with ourselves.

  • How do we (or “can we”) take an honest look at, and into, ourselves?
  • What are our mind’s patterns of thinking?
  • Is our mindset more fixed or oriented toward curiosity and growth?
  • What emotional energy are we in touch with?
  • How do we challenge our assumptions to bring blind spots into awareness?

Attention and Presence with Others:

This lens is a look at the quality and integrity of our relationships with others—individuals, groups, and teams.

  • What feelings come up for us and our clients in our coaching work together?
  • How are we connecting to the needs of others by listening deeply and empathizing with them?
  • What do they need from us to be successful and what do we need from them?
  • What are the specific building blocks that will create the bridges needed to partner effectively?

Attention and Presence with the System:

Through this lens we look at the different systems and cultures in which we work.

  • What are we aware of in the changing dynamics of our work environments and what are their effects on us and others?
  • What are the cultural factors present in the broader organization?
  • What behaviors are allowed and why and how do they impact individual and team effectives?
  • What is happening in the business environment that is impacting organizational decisions?

There are three ways to use the Tri-Lens Mindful Reflection Model™:

  1. Start with your own reflective practice, Self as Leader. Commit time to review and process leadership experiences consistently. One of my coaching clients asks himself one question from each lens at the end of every day.
  2. With colleagues up, down, and across. Step back and observe all key relationships. An exercise I use with coaching clients and teams is to reflect on this question every day: How will you actively support your colleague’s success?
  3. As a model to instill reflection as a practice with team members and anyone interested in increasing learning and performance.

Mindful reflection takes committed, deliberate practice for leaders to reap the benefits. Practice takes dedicated time and pauses throughout the day and week to build the habit and develop for the long term.

To break through to higher performance and continuous development and to shift from reflection deficit to mindful reflection, invest the time to look through three lenses of leadership. Dewey’s formula holds the key: “Experience plus reflection equals learning.”