When we think about leaders, we think about them active, visible, communicating all the time, inspiring people, being present. But it’s not quite so simple as that. We also highly value their quietness and stillness.
Take this as an example. Here’s a picture of the great war hero, Navy man, Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson. Here he is, depicted in this picture in 1806 –The painting was made in 1806, the year after he died –of one of his first victories, in the midst of stormy water, the boat tossing and turning around him. But here he is, a centre of calmness and stillness in the midst of it all. And that’s how we like our leaders to appear.
Of course, real life wasn’t quite like that. He was thrown off the ship and tossed into the sea. Several of his sailors were drowned. He managed to climb back on and survive, obviously. But in 1806, a year after he died, the mythmakers wanted to depict him not as it really was in that situation but as this mythological, still, calm figure, as it were, controlling the elements. And that’s how we’d like to think of most of our leaders –quiet and still in the midst of turmoil.
How is this done? Well, there are three aspects of reflection that are important to this.
The first is the ability to remember, to remember, make back into membership aspects of our own memory, experiences that we’ve forgotten about or pushed to one side to bring back in to our present consciousness. And also aspects of experience that are spread out throughout the organisation, we want to pull them back together and say, “Now, what do you know? What do you know? What do you know?”
These are all aspects of reflection, of remembering, which points to the second point of collective reflection. Many aspects of strategy are done collectively. When we want to work out our core competence, we think, “Well, what are we good at around here?” That’s a reflective activity. When we want to think about our values, what matters to us, that’s a reflective activity. If we want to consider innovation and creativity –“Where can we go? What do we have to bring to this new situation?” –that’s a reflective activity.
And thirdly, another kind of reflection is reflexivity. This means literally to refold, reflex. So it’s when our outward-facing attention and faculties are refolded and pointed inwards. “What am I feeling now? What am I anxious about? What am I excited about? Why? What lies in this?” That’s reflexivity.
So, there we are, three aspects of reflectiveness –personal reflexivity, collective reflection, and personal remembering. And those are the keys to quiet leadership.