Living Leadership

Living Leadership

Who has time for self-reflection?

Julie Thorson, Friendship Haven
Julie Thorson, Friendship Haven

In our busy world, who has time for self-reflection? A year ago, I would have told you I not only don't have time but I would have answered with self-reflection? (Note obvious inflection in voice) And that really means … what?

I wouldn't suggest I have the answer, but I did experience a powerful journey through Leading Age's Leadership Academy this year that has transformed me not only to be a better leader, but I also hope a better person.

For those of you who don't know what the newly renamed Larry Minnix Leading Age Leadership Academy is it's a yearlong fellowship program that is truly transformative.

My personal story through the academy is one that I believe reaches each of you as leaders. Being the boss can come with a heavy burden. One that if you don't find a way to balance and carry the burden, it can consume you.

If anyone claims he or she can carry the burden with ease is either delusional or simply not willing to admit truths to themself. A year ago, I thought the key to carrying the burden was to lift higher, hold tighter and keep the burden perpetually in motion so no one would notice just quite how heavy it was.

The Academy, and specifically our facilitator Judy Brown, helped guide me to the realization that leadership has more to do with me than it does with those we lead.

Grab hold of the notion that the only thing you have to work with, that you can change, is yourself. I suspect the continual judging of others as insufficient to the task, flawed, is something folks can sense, can almost smell.

The more actionable question is: “How must I change the conditions I am creating as a leader in order to increase the likelihood of their being able to do what they are capable of doing?” (A Leaders Guide to Reflective Practice)

While this is a simple concept in theory, it's a must more difficult concept to practice because it focuses in on one of the most difficult of questions to answer: What can I do better?

To answer it with honesty is one step. It's a step that may actually be pretty easy. Make a list: I can do this better, I can do that better. But to actually DO IT, well that's another story.

As leaders we have climbed to the position we are in because we are good at something. Everyone's something is a little different. It's a scary place to get to in our careers where we ask ourselves to examine who we are as people and what can we do better to more positively impact others' lives, the lives of those we lead.

I value the Leadership Academy because it gave me the safe place to practice self-reflection in a way that not only forced me to ask the questions of myself but taught me ways to do better. While I would without hesitation recommend the program, my larger plea to you is to find the time to be self-reflective. Examine your personal leadership practices.

Be honest with yourself.

• Do you consistently model the behavior you want to see in your team?

• Do you make way for them to be the very best they can be, or are you the barrier?

I'm grateful for this year of self-reflection. The challenge we all face is to make self-reflection an integral part of our personal leadership journeys. If you don't consider your work as a leader a journey, then you should ask yourself if you are willing and able to grow and learn?

If your answer is no, how can you expect your team members to grow and learn?

Julie Thorson is the president and CEO of Friendship Haven, a continuing care retirement community in Fort Dodge, IA, that earned the Governor's Award for Quality in 2014. A coach's daughter at heart, she is a former part-time nursing home social worker who quickly ascended the leadership ranks. A licensed nursing home administrator, she has been a participant in LeadingAge's Leadership Academy and was recently named LeadingAge Iowa's Mentor of the Year. 

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