When preparing to teach leadership courses for undergraduate and graduate programs at Wartburg College, I always include multiple assignments, readings, videos, and activities related to self-awareness and reflection. A former student commented, “If I had to summarize this leadership course into one word, it wouldn’t be hard to do—reflection.” The best leaders are able to look at themselves in the mirror and assess their own strengths and weaknesses honestly.


As a professor, I can require students to participate in reflection as part of homework assignments, even when they remark that it’s their least favorite activity. In the workplace, however, how many of us are taking the time to reflect unless we’re forced to do so?


Team development specialist Jennifer Porter stated that resistance to self-reflection occurs for a variety of reasons:


  • We feel that we may be doing it wrong.
  • We don’t want to slow down and take the time.
  • We don’t like what we discover when we self-analyze our actions.
  • It can create uncomfortable feelings.


Leaders who don’t reflect on why something happened won’t see how to change it, repeat it, or prevent it in the future. Reflection brings understanding and improvement.


Self-reflection allows leaders to set priorities and imagine what they might do differently. Whether on a typical workday or during a crisis, it behooves leaders to take a deep breath and practice restraint and consideration. Harry M. Kraemer, former CEO of Baxter International, stated, “If I don’t know myself, is it possible for me to lead myself? I doubt that. If I can’t lead myself, how could I possibly lead other people?.” 




Management accountants and finance professionals gather and analyze information to assist in decision making, suggest improvements, and provide advice for the future of the organization. This is a form of reflection. There are several key benefits of reflection.


Emotional intelligence. Taking the time to reflect on reactions and experiences to develop self-awareness helps you to better understand your emotions and recognize their impacts on your work, team, and ability to lead others effectively.


Better decision making. Taking time to reflect on future goals helps us to articulate a plan for achieving those goals. Reflecting on past events and working to understand what made them successful or not helps us to make better decisions when we’re in similar situations and to correct or mitigate past missteps.


Continuous improvement. Part of self-reflection is admitting that you aren’t a perfect person and have room for improvement as a leader. Taking the time to reflect on projects, meetings, team assignments, decisions, and actions helps you to figure out how to improve your performance.


Authenticity. Authentic leaders are transparent and hold themselves accountable for their mistakes and celebrate the contributions of others—they don’t just take credit for their own and their team’s victories. Transparency and authenticity help to build a culture of trust with employees.


Self-reflection is taking the time to gather information, evaluate and analyze it, and think about the reasons behind your thoughts and behaviors. How can we translate our activities and experiences as management accountants into self-reflection for improved leadership?




There are many ways that leaders can reflect. More important than how you reflect is choosing an activity that you’ll actually do on a regular basis. One way to turn reflection into a regular habit is to integrate it into something that you enjoy doing. The following are a few best practices that have proven successful.


Keep a journal. Write down what happened during an event. Try to describe in detail everything you remember about it, including how it made you feel. Then think about why you felt that way and how others reacted to it.


Block out time on your calendar. Schedule time into your day for self-reflection. Remove distractions during that time—turn off your phone, don’t check email, and walk away from your desk. Start with a small amount of time every day, say, 10 minutes, and then add time as you’re able.


Go for a walk—get some exercise. Give yourself a topic or question to reflect on during your stroll. I tend to reflect during my daily workout. My mind naturally wanders while I’m working out, allowing me to think about recent activities and put them in perspective.


Talk to someone you trust. Have a conversation with a friend or family member and ask for their perspective and thoughts about a situation.


Seek 360° feedback. Ask for feedback from people you report to, people who report to you, and your peers. Analyze the similarities and differences between the results. Contemplate ways that you can develop your leadership skills, reflecting on the feedback you receive.




If you acknowledge the value of self-reflection to bolster your leadership skills but don’t know where to start, ask yourself the following questions:


1. How do your role and responsibilities as a leader relate to and support your organization’s goals?

2. Where do you see opportunities for improvement and development in your own work, skills, knowledge, career, and life?

3. Are you avoiding a conflict or something unpleasant or complicated? Why are you avoiding it?

4. What happened in a recent meeting? Were you upset or surprised by something? Did you say so? Why or why not?

5. When did you last push the boundaries of your comfort zone?

6. What happened today that made you smile? That frustrated you?

7. What motivates you? How can you boost others’ motivation?

8. How do you react when frustrated and how does that affect others?


Reflection is an integral part of leadership, skills development, and learning from your experiences to become a better leader. Taking the time to self-reflect has multiple benefits for yourself, your team, and your organization.

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