It has been delightful working with two groups of senior civil servants from the Indonesian Government over the last three weeks. They had come to the UK to explore issues of Strategic Performance Management and Coaching and Mentoring for Trainers. It has been a pleasure for ATi to host these delegates, these programs again running in partnership with Middlesex University Business School.
As well as supporting our delegates to further enhance their subject knowledge, one of the things that we particularly focused upon was the importance of reflections. It occurred to me that as English was not their first language, from time to time some individuals used an online dictionary to check the meaning of words – “reflections” being potentially quite ambiguous.
Take the idea of reflections being what you see when you look in the mirror. This was appropriate as one of the focal points of their training was to encourage people to look at themselves in terms of their actions, skills, knowledge, approaches, behaviours, and emotional control (my ‘ASK ABE’ model, published back in 2007). This work quite well, although culturally this is something that does not come naturally to individuals in South East Asia, where people are often more interested in the relationships with other people than in examining themselves. Reflections in a mirror therefore fits quite well with looking internally to see what actions could enhance each individual and their interpersonal behaviour and performance.
Reflections can also be taken to mean reviewing. In this sense we were encouraging people to review the systems and processes policies and procedures and the way in which these were utilised in their organisation to look for the strengths weaknesses opportunities and threats in order that they might identify areas that could be changed to optimise their operations.
Reflections can also be considered an important part of many religious faiths – reflecting on the world at large, life in general, and the current situation and context of the individual and groups. The majority of our guests were of the Muslim religion, and it was very clear, especially as Friday prayers were approaching, that reflection would form an important part of their prayer meetings.
Each Friday for our groups we allowed some additional time in the afternoon following Friday prayers for training programme and workplace reflection. We did not specify, however, where this should take place. For our guests this was mainly their first visit to the UK, and whatever spare time they had was taken in sightseeing and shopping. A new meaning was added to my idea of reflections when one of our participants told me they were going to reflect as they walked around, and that they had a number of shopping bags with them in which to put their “reflection notes”!
So what is reflection? There are many writers providing self-help books, life coaching books and online processes for CPD, all referring to reflection. For me reflection is about looking at what has recently occurred and asking myself – What happened? Why did that happen? Was this good or could it have been better? What needed to happen to improve or enhance it? What were the key points that I learnt from it? How could I use this learning to be more effective next time this or something very similar crops up?…… and so on.
Michael Jackson had it about right with his 1988 hit Man in the Mirror (lyrics by Garrett and Ballard), that clearly sends the message “…if you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make a change”. I too firmly believe that change starts within.
And then of course, ideally we should reflect on reflections…… Thinking about how well did we just reflect? Did we genuinely pick out the good the bad and the ugly from recent activities? Did we truly look at the learning points? Did we really take the time to examine a range of options to enhance this next time? Did we make notes or something similar to be sure that next time the activity occurs we really did learn from last time? Or were we simply reflecting in passing whilst shopping or sightseeing? And, of course, for those who must keep or like keeping CPD records, how has this reflection been recorded?
Ultimately we all need to reflect effectively, and reflecting on our reflection skills must surely therefore fall into the categories of essential life skills as well as management skills.
So what are your reflections on my thoughts? More importantly, what have you learnt from this, and how will you use this learning? All our participants seem to gain significantly from their visit to Middlesex University in London and I’d like to thank all my ATi and University colleagues and associates for their hard work and contributions to the programme. We all wish our new friends in the Indonesian Civil Service the very best of luck with the challenges that lie ahead!