Leadership Development: Finding the Time to Reflect

The best thing about leaving your job and doing the MBA is that it gives you two years to pause and reflect. As a bonus, the MBA summer internship is like leadership learning on steroids.

During the internship, students have a lot of time to engage with senior leaders through one-on-ones. You work on a team and do projects, thus acquiring learnings. Then you discuss these learnings during engagement with senior leadership, and reflect.

This cycle of learning and reflection in such a short amount time is incredibly powerful and hard to find outside of an MBA program.

The question for an MBA student thus becomes, how do you sustain this cycle of leadership development when you transition into a full time role? Full time employees typically get a one-on-one every few months with senior leaders, and have mid-term and annual reviews with their managers. This is way less frequent than what an intern will get during the summer. Also, when you are fully immersed in your day-time job, it can be difficult to pull away and reflect on leadership.

In Corporate America, people can have back-to-back meetings all day with little time to even do individual work. Most folks also have families with children and had to balance life with their job. The internship thus gives MBAs a glimpse into corporate life.

However, because our projects were not as intense as someone who worked full time, we were allowed to - and expected to - network with leaders in the organization. A good benchmark is to spend about half of your time on the project, and the other half on networking.

"How do you find the time to reflect and think about leadership" was often one of the first questions I asked senior leaders during one-on-ones in my internship. Something I found insightful was that successful leaders often blocked out time to focus exclusively on reflection, learning, and strategic planning. This is incredibly important - as I mentioned before, focusing on leadership development is the key to career advancement.

In addition to daily work, people need dedicated time to think about their career development. Only reflection on developmental opportunities can lead to growth. Day-to-day tasks, on the other hand, are often the execution of tactics. Leaders are deliberate in positioning themselves for the future by taking opportunities that will lead to continued personal development.

Blocking out an entire afternoon to focus on leadership development may be difficult for the entry-level MBA hire. How, then, do we find the time to do so?

My answer to that is you have to do it on your free time. Becoming a leader takes sacrifice, as mentioned in Simon Sinek's book "Leaders Eat Last", which I also discuss here. Those who are in leadership positions are expected to sacrifice aspects of their life in return for a higher paying job and more authority.

Developing yourself takes a lot of dedicated effort and time. It's not an easy thing to do, especially when there are no immediate rewards that stem from it. As irrational human beings, we are programmed to focus our attention on things that generate immediate gratification, as research from Fuqua professor and behavioral economist Dan Ariely shows.

So finding the time to reflect isn't easy, but it also isn't as hard as you might think.

There doesn't need to be a tension between personal endeavors and professional growth. Some things in life will have to be de-prioritized as there is only a set amount of time in the day. However, based on my experience there's enough overlap between everyday activities and leadership development.

Even things like team sports, movies, and dinner conversations are a good source of lessons to reflect on. If you love to drink (alcohol), why not attend the Duke Gobal Entrepreneurs Network happy hours to drink and meet rising entrepreneurs and leaders? If you want to have fun during a school break, why not sign up for an improv class to build communication skills at the same time?

The key is to put yourself in situations that will give you things to reflect on during your free time. It also creates an additional channel of leadership learnings in addition to those on the job. For example, someone you meet at these events may have faced your currently leadership development needs in the past.

Communication with friends and family about your leadership goals will help to carve out personal time to reflect and plan. Even blocking off one weekend per month may do wonders. Some successful leaders spend some time before bed each night to think and reflect.

For me, writing this blog helps me stay disciplined and gives me a way to keep leadership constantly on my mind. Regardless of how its done, it needs to be deliberate, scheduled, and followed through.

I don't know if my ideals will hold true once I'm committed in a full time role, but hopefully by having this blog, I'll be motivated to constantly reflect and publish articles for my readers! So far this blog is getting anywhere between 200-800 daily visits, and the email subscription list is growing every day.

I am very motivated by all of this and it helps me stay focused. Thank you to all my subscribers for keeping me on track!

Read the other posts in my MBA Internship Leadership Series here:

Leadership: the Key Ingredient to Success
What the MBA Doesn't Teach: How to Become a Leader 
Gaining Exposure to Senior Leaders: Night Jobs
Get Promoted: First Build Trust With Your Boss
Leading Effective Meetings for MBAs
Non-Traditional MBA Skills, A Hidden Asset

1 comment :

  1. Basically, in studying life, we are able to learn so many positive things from our seniors, surrounding, classroom discussions, collide with friends, and from many other sources. In this way, students are able to improve their leadership skills. Leadership is very much essential for every student, as it brings good positive changes in their personality, thoughts, ideas, and skills. From the very beginning, if students are able to understand the facts of leadership, then they are able to improve their personal growth.