Journaling for Transformational Leaders
I was recently facilitating a workshop on emotional intelligence for a group of senior leaders when one leader asked: How do you journal? As someone who has journaled consistently since adolescence, I reveled in the opportunity to open the door to this transformational practice for those in the room.
As Nebo has written about previously, research demonstrates the ways in which reflection can enhance results in the workplace and beyond. Journaling is one excellent strategy to encourage reflection. We know that journaling can boost your leadership skills, especially when it includes putting pen to paper because this stimulates the brain’s reticular activating system, triggering your brain to pay closer attention.
According to Nebo’s founder and CEO, Kate Ebner: “Without reflection, we are confined to the limitations of our own judgements and conclusions, not even realizing that there is so much more available to us.” Journaling helps organize our thoughts and crystalize our reflections. It allows us to accept Heifetz and Linsky’s invitation to “get on the balcony,” providing a way to step back from the action and see ourselves as “object” instead of “subject” of the drama that is playing out on the dance floors of our daily lives. With greater self-awareness, we can better see and understand the choices available to us and discern the difference between what has happened and what it means to us.
With burnout and stress among leaders at an all-time high, focusing on activities that help us slow down, calm down and reflect is more crucial now than ever before. Journaling is a practice that can stretch the space between stimulus and response and fill it with awareness and intention. As we flex our reflection muscle, we learn to see ourselves, others, systems, and the future in new and more nuanced ways. Your journal can become a sacred space for being fully present to how you show up in the world, both at work and at home.
Four Approaches to Journaling for Leaders
If you seek to begin or accelerate your personal transformation, journaling is a highly effective way to build self-awareness, and in turn, your ability to show up as a more conscious leader. Choose an approach to journaling that suits your lifestyle and goals. Here are some examples:
- Build a Habit: A-Line-A-Day for a Year
This approach is a great one for building the discipline of a daily reflection habit. Whether you buy a simple spiral notebook or one of the “one-line-a-day” journals on the market, the trick here is to jot down a key idea, question, prayer, memory or goal every day for an entire year. If you miss a few days, no biggie – pick up and keep going.
- Clear a Cluttered Mind: Stream of Consciousness
In this approach to journaling, you aim to describe the unfiltered thoughts and feelings that pass through you. It’s about clearing your worries, naming your emotions, processing your experiences and making space for a deeper and truer voice to emerge from within. It is a cathartic pathway to learning, to creativity, to forgiveness, to improved decision-making and to joy. The key is to find a quiet place, accept and capture the thoughts as they come, and to not stop writing (set a timer for yourself). If you get stuck, write that or write what you’re grateful for and see what opens up.
- Move Toward a Vision: A Structured Approach
Some leaders choose to journal as a way to stay connected to their purpose and vision. A more structured approach to journaling can be both grounding and action-oriented. Methods like the Bullet Journal or The Sunrise Manifesto intentionally guide you toward cultivating self-awareness, making sense of a changing world and moving toward your most important goals. Use and/or create whatever scaffolding for your pages that will motivate you to write regularly.
- Open New Ways of Seeing & Being: Self-Coaching
A wonderful complement to and extension of leadership coaching, self-coaching is a way to observe yourself and make sense of the fast-moving world between coaching sessions. You and your coach can identify a coaching model to bring into your journaling practice or simply identify a few ritual questions to write about each day. Just as coaches are trained to listen deeply and ask powerful questions, you can also learn to listen to your inner voice and get curious about what you hear, without judgement.
On a periodic basis (e.g. quarterly or annually), take some time to read through your journal to identify trends, process experiences with the benefit of hindsight, and appreciate the shifts you have made. Jot down a few observations about yourself, your year and how you might incorporate journaling into your leadership journey going forward. On the flip side, if you are someone who worries about someone else finding your journal, I tell people “Feel free to burn it!” While some of us may enjoy a record of our journeys over time, journaling at its core is about attuning to the present moment. It’s about deepening self-awareness and seeing things with fresh perspective so that you can choose how to show up for this one precious life.
At Nebo, we love to help leaders think about new ways to increase their self-awareness and improve their leadership, using methods that work for them. If you’d like to speak to a Nebo Leader to learn more, please don’t hesitate to reach out.