Reflecting to Be a Better Leader

Jeff PrickettBlog, Connect Better, Lead Better, Reflect Better


  • Be a better leader through journaling, exercise, accountability partners, and mindful practices.
  • Leaders should ensure reflection is a part of their daily practice to stay at the top of their game.

In a world deprived of time to breathe, face-to-face connections, space for people to think deeply, and to make smart, reflective decisions, I have to wonder how we are protecting our most precious resource: ourselves.

As leaders, having space and time to think, reflect, and recharge is of critical importance. It is of such great importance that, without it, we tend to miss things.  When this happens, we neglect the opportunity to expatiate upon a thought to the degree that the idea may have become something worth doing. 

We miss the advantage. We miss the opportunity. As a result of our fast-paced, charge-ahead world—one in which we feel we must move quickly, get things done as soon as possible, have the answers right now—the ones who miss out are the ones who need our good thinking the most. In schools, this means the students.  

Leaders think of reflection as a chef thinks of key ingredients. They think of reflection as an athlete thinks of practice before game day. Or as a master carpenter thinks of the tools necessary for constructing a family home. These people wouldn’t go without their accouterments; they wouldn’t be caught without their tools of the trade. These are the things necessary for the expertise and quality craftsmanship that we expect out of those we consider “experts in their field.” The same is true of the reflective educator.

The following strategies are just a few ways you can begin to use reflection in becoming a better leader.

Be a Better Leader By Journaling

Without reflection after a long and arduous week in the office or in the classroom, you tend to forget exactly what was going through your mind at the moment you had to make a tough decision. That decision you made will either turn out how you intended, or it has the possibility (as all decisions do) of backfiring and causing ill-will, leading to tensions amongst the people who rely on you to have thought out those decisions.

One technique you might consider employing to assist you in making sure your decisions are sound is to keep a journal. Journaling can be a record of your daily thoughts. It can be recording tasks you are engaged in on a daily basis. It can be the written processing of conversations you’ve had with people, or any combination thereof. 

We can begin by making sure that time for reflection is a part of our daily or weekly routine. As leaders, being better means many more lives positively impacted by our desire to be at the top of our game. Click To Tweet

Be a Better Leader with Accountability Partners

I have a few close friends that I speak with on an almost daily basis. In addition to being good friends, they serve— willingly—various purposes. I call them my “accountability partners.”

With one of them, we hold a standing meeting every Friday afternoon. We discuss the week, and he pushes my thinking on a number of items. I share with him my progress in certain areas like decisions I have made, relationships I have worked to intentionally grow, and actions I have taken to advance specific goals.

I meet with another group of accountability partners every Tuesday. We discuss and brainstorm around a particular issue one of us may be facing. We declare publicly a commitment we are making for the week. And we check in with each other throughout the week through the use of text messages and Voxer (a walkie-talkie app that many of us use).

Be a Better Leader by Running (or some form of physical activity)

I will always try, in addition to the above practices, to incorporate running, walking, or some other form of physical activity into my weekly habits. There are very clear and obvious benefits to strenuous physical activity. For me, the physical exertion allows me to clear my head and focus on the work that lies before me. It also allows me to reflect on the day. And it allows me to problem solve—in my mind—a task that I will be facing, or a decision that I have just made that could potentially impact hundreds of students. This solo activity offers me the solitude and quiet space that I need, without interruption, to be able to process and move forward with a laser-like focus. 

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Be a Better Leader with Mindfulness Practice

If you’re not in the habit of some type of mindfulness routine, you could be missing out on a very powerful and impactful form of reflection. They don’t have to take up too much time. One fairly easy way to incorporate mindfulness techniques into your daily routine is a quick meditation when you wake up. Another way is to be intentional in your relationships with people. Live in the moment and don’t let anything interfere with your individual conversations. Focus on the relationship.

You can also download one of the many breathing exercise apps on your phone. These mindfulness exercises are not cumbersome; they can be done anywhere and will help you reflect on the most important aspects of your day. In other words, they can help you become a better leader!

Lead Better

We can always do better. This is one thing we can’t dispute, but really won’t be able to do better until we know better. We’ve heard this before. It has been attributed to the late poet and Civil Rights activist Maya Angelou, where she is quoted as saying, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” We can begin by making sure that time for reflection is a part of our daily or weekly routine. As leaders, being better means many more lives positively impacted by our desire to be at the top of our game. 

Not everyone is an upfront leader. The keynote speaker may have incredible talent at exciting the crowd. Their skill is essential, but we must celebrate and empower others to use their abilities so that collectively we can move our school’s mission forward. Empowering others is critical to moving forward. – Adam DeWitt, Principal (@adewitt2)

Leading by empowering means we are creating opportunities, removing barriers, and making way for creativity to flourish. Empowerment by definition is “make (someone) stronger and more confident.” I would argue that we don’t have the capability to “make” someone stronger or more confident; however, we do have the ability to draw out and develop strengths that each individual already possesses. As a result, we foster and boost an individual’s confidence to effectively do the work they were built and designed to do. It is our responsibility as leaders to build leaders within our organizations and communities. By building strong working relationships. establishing a culture of yes, and providing opportunities for others to lead, we distribute ownership and responsibility throughout an organization making the “whole” more effective. – Scott Whipple, Principal (@whipplescott)

See the full Leading by Empowering blog series here!

About Jeff Prickett

Prior to serving as Principal of McHenry High School East Campus, Dr. Prickett served as a middle school principal for five years, as well as principal at the elementary level for eight years. In addition, Prickett also has experience as an assistant principal, dean of students, and classroom teacher. Entering his 25th year in public education, he holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Judson University, a Master’s degree from Aurora University, and a Doctorate in Educational Leadership from National Louis University. He lives in McHenry, IL with his wife and kids. In his spare time, he enjoys co-hosting The Principal Leadership Lab podcast with good friend Adam DeWitt, relaxing with family and friends, running, reading, and following his beloved Chicago Cubs.