Teddy Roosevelt did it. Harry Truman did it. Want to be an outstanding leader? Keep a leadership journal. As part of my executive coaching work, one of the most effective tools I recommend that powers up the coaching process is a leadership journal. The exercise of leadership is not unlike a sport you play. When you review your actions in the field you learn what worked, what didn’t, and adjust along the way. Leadership guru Peter Drucker said: “ Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action. ”
There are many benefits to reflection.
The biggest benefit of keeping a leadership journal is to expand your self-awareness. Self-awareness of your strengths, your energizers, what challenges you, what can derail you is a key driver of emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence (the ability to know and manage yourself and others) is a key driver of success in leadership.
Another key benefit of keeping a leadership journal is to manage stress. Workplace stress has a significant impact on our overall well-being. Journaling about stressful events can help you process them, release the negative emotions, and ultimately enable learning. Our physical and emotional well-being is a key driver of the energy we bring to the workplace. The more positive emotion and inspiration we feel as a leader, the greater the impact on our teams. A gratitude journal has been shown to have significant positive impacts in maintaining a good immune system and wiring the brain for positive emotion.
Effective leaders are able to see what’s happening with a clearer perspective. They are thus able to respond with greater agility to change. They lead effectively because they see effectively.
Ten Questions For Your Leadership Journal
To make your leadership journal a habit, I suggest you block off fifteen minutes on your calendar and make it part of your morning or evening routine. Find a favorite place. Some people choose a beautiful journal to write in so it becomes something they look forward to rather than a chore. For me, writing in my journal is like sitting and having a good cup of coffee with a close friend. I look forward to it.
Often, my coaching clients ask “How do I get started?” The following is a list of useful prompts. Regardless of whether you’re going through a coaching process or want to power up your leadership, you may find these coaching questions useful as prompts to write about in your daily journal. If ten questions are too many, start with one. The key is to start and stay in the practice.
What’s present for me now? This may feel like an esoteric question to start with but it’s a useful one to get present to what’s going on in this moment for you. Take a few deep breaths, close your eyes, and bring awareness to your body. Stretch and release any tension you’re feeling. Look inside yourself. Notice what emotions are present. Often, we rush through our day without checking in with ourselves. This is an opportunity to greet an old friend and see how they are. It will set you up for rich learning in the questions that follow.
What’s going well? What’s creating that? Acknowledging what’s good helps you take a step back from what may have been a very stressful day. It helps you acknowledge yourself and others for the good that’s happening. It helps you learn what’s positive and what’s helping you achieve goals.
What’s challenging? What’s creating that? Acknowledging what’s challenging focuses you on what needs your attention for learning and growth. Often, we start off by blaming others, ourselves, or circumstances for what is challenging. That’s fine and a perfectly human response. You can start there. And I urge you to look deeper within yourself. What beliefs, attitudes, or actions by you contribute to what is challenging for you? This process of taking responsibility (without judgment) is a key driver to feeling empowered as a leader rather than a victim of circumstances. It opens you up to experimenting with other ways of leading that may be more effective.
What needs my attention? This is a great question for scanning your environment, both work and personal. Your quality attention is your most precious asset. This helps you become mindful and choose where you invest it.
What’s meaningful? Finding meaning in each day keeps you fueled. It helps you learn about what values are important to you and then lead from these values. It helps you discover purpose and lead from purpose, inspiring and engaging yourself and those around you. Another question in this same vein is “what am I grateful for”? This helps you focus on what’s going right overall which helps to reduce stress, and improve overall well-being. Keeping a gratitude journal has been shown to clinically improve your immune system. It also increases resilience.
What strengths do I notice in myself? This helps you become aware of your strengths and put them into action. You may also want to journal about values you exercised. It builds confidence, trust in yourself, and resilience.
What strengths and contributions do I notice in others? This helps you appreciate and see what others are contributing. You can then powerfully acknowledge and appreciate them. It helps build productive and trusting work relationships.
What am I learning? Scan your writing. Capture any learning that feels most important.
What am I am committing to? This helps you move the learning forward into commitment to experiment with new perspectives and or new behaviors that will help you be more effective.
Try this exercise out. Bullet-point answers are fine. I challenge you to try it as a gift to yourself for the next seven days. My hope is that it will help you to become a more inspired, authentic and agile leader.
P.S. You may want to check out a leadership journal created by my friend David Langiulli who is also a leadership coach and works with non-profit leaders.
This post first appeared in my Forbes leadership blog.