Recently I had the great pleasure of attending a graduation ceremony for a small group of MBA students. Until that evening, I only knew them in my capacity as their Corporate Strategy and Leadership facilitator. It was a bit surreal meeting them in person as we’d only met online in webinars, discussion forums, via emails and in reviewing their assessments. It was therefore really interesting to hear their reflections on their learning journeys given the fact that the traditional in-class interaction had been absent.
Online vs Classroom Learning
What struck me as they were recounting their experiences was the importance they placed on how reflective practice had enhanced their development as managers and leaders.
In fact, creating opportunities during the online course to reflect on what’s being learned and how they can apply this knowledge every day in their role and within their organisation seemed to take on even greater significance than in a face-to-face classroom learning situation. The largely solo nature of online learning forces the learner to reflect more on what they are studying in order to be able to embed and embody the learning in a way that traditional classroom style lectures simply don’t (or can’t)
Reflective practice in practice
How did the students capture their reflections? They used a digital learning journal; made posts to the group on set issues as well as commented on posts made by others; they undertook a series of commonly available, web-based self-insight tools and completed two sophisticated assessment tools (Decision Making for Leaders (DMFL) by Professor Victor Vroom and Leadership Multi-Rater Assessment of Personality (LMAP) by Ron Warren, PhD) used at a range of top business schools and large corporations. These reflective practices were designed to promote deep thinking and build capability – literally learning how to think about thinking and how they can apply what they learned.
So why does Reflective Practice work?
I discussed the student’s experience with colleagues and other learners and we concluded that the online environment made it easier for students to engage with the content. First and foremost, they had the physical and mental space to think about the content without the distractions of people talking or feeling pressure to talk themselves. It gave them time to think about their experiences before responding to a question they were asked to write about in their learning journal and/or group posts. In addition, where they were unclear how to respond, they often had the opportunity to read another student’s post to give them greater confidence about what they were going to write before publicly showing it.
Self-reflection and Self-regulation
The leap from Middle Management to Senior Executive is one of the toughest career transitions leaders need to make. They need to adjust their time horizons from daily/weekly/monthly to annual or even a decade ahead. The level of complexity, critical thinking and judgement required increases dramatically. And senior executives are role models for the rest of the organisation. Therefore, spending time reflecting on these issues and what the implications are for your own practice as a manager/leader is crucial for you to embed and embody new approaches/behaviours. As one of the four principles of Social Cognitive Theory states, it is only through the process of self-reflection that we learn to self-regulate. Becoming comfortable with and confident at using reflective practices is an essential tool in an aspiring senior leader’s toolkit.