How CEOs can practice self-reflection

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2020 has been characterised with multiple crises – from the COVID-19 pandemic to protests and the election outcome in some parts – thus increasing the pressure on business leaders and CEOs to perform and deliver.

The business environment is now more complex than ever before, and change is happening at an unprecedented pace. In the flurry of activities, the CEO is tasked with the burden of making crucial decisions for the organisation and its employees. The quality of these decisions shapes the future of the organisation, thus requiring the CEO to be mentally and psychologically sound. 

As CEOs try to navigate this high-stakes environment, their ability to self-reflect is threatened. Self-reflection requires leaders to tune out the noise of the corporate or business environment and look inwards. 

What can CEOs find when they practice self-reflection?

  • They gain a better knowledge of self: The practice of self-reflection is known to amount to self-awareness. With self-reflection, CEOs can analyse their strengths and dedicate effort towards improving on them while simultaneously identifying their weaknesses and building a team to fill those gaps. Some CEOs consider delegation a sign of weakness, and others prefer to remain the object of public attention. However, they must remain conscious of the power of teamwork. 


  • They gain clarity: Self-reflection allows CEOs to ruminate on ideas and problems, not necessarily in search of a solution, but to connect missing parts. According to an associate professor of education, psychology, and neuroscience at the University of Southern California, Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, “constructive internal reflection is important in making meaning of additional information and for distilling creative, emotionally relevant connections between complex ideas.”


  • They find meaning: The busyness of work is overwhelming. For many CEOs, this escalated in the heat of the pandemic as they struggled to keep up with evolving customer needs and employees who needed support to deliver. In all these, CEOs can get so emotionally drained, they lose their sense of purpose. Practising self-reflection can lead the CEO back to rediscovering why.

How can CEOs practice self-reflection?

  • Schedule your reflective thinking: CEOs should actively set out time for daily reflections and include this in their calendar. According to a Boston Consulting Group article, “the most famous and successful practitioner of reflection is, perhaps, Warren Buffett, who says that he spends about six hours a day reading”. It pays to start small by dedicating two to five minutes to reflecting.


  • Choose a self-reflection method: Becoming a self-reflective CEO is not a magical experience. It is a journey that requires efforts and mindful practices such as walking, reading, journaling, and meditation. Whatever you pick, make sure it is unique, reflects your personality and is sustainable.


  • Pick a trusted partner: Authentic conversations with a trusted individual in your industry can help self-reflection. They can raise tough questions, help you untangle complicated ideas, or simply provide the encouragement that many CEOs don’t like to admit that they need. Such partners can provide new information and help you question and discard long-held, unhealthy mindsets.

A self-reflective CEO is more likely to be productive than one who isn’t. While the pandemic has cost lives and businesses, it also presents an opportunity to rethink the past and future. Business leaders can reposition their lives and organisations when they take advantage of this opportunity, in the busyness of it all.