“The best way to lead people into the future is to connect with them deeply in the present.” — James Kouzes
My Friday Reflection Habit helped me become a better innovator at Microsoft.
I only realized this after looking back over the past 20+ years.
I underestimated the power of my Friday Reflection habit.
It made me grow in ways I didn’t expect.
The primary purpose was to improve my productivity.
But I ended up improving my innovation skills in a very simple, but profound way.
The Friday Reflection Habit in a Nutshell
Friday Reflection is part of my Monday Vision, Daily Wins, Friday Reflection pattern.
Monday Vision, Daily Wins, Friday Reflection is my pattern for weekly results.
On my calendar, I have a recurring appointment where I spend 20-minutes reflecting on my past week.
I simply ask myself variations of:
- What are 3 things going well?
- What are 3 things to improve?
- What behaviors will you practice next week?
It’s simple, but it’s profound.
The best thing I ever did was to make it a recurring calendar appointment.
It pops up and ask me the questions.
But by making this a weekly habit, I found that my skill of reflection got stronger, and my insights got deeper.
It’s like the Bruce Lee quote:
“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who had practiced one kick 10,000 times.”
— Bruce Lee
Extending the Friday Reflection Habit to Build Leadership Skills
My Friday Reflection Habit quickly and exponentially improved my productivity.
So much so, that I wanted to turn my attention to other areas.
I wondered if my Friday Reflection Habit could help me grow my leadership skills.
And I wondered if I could do so, simply by asking myself better questions or prompts, the same way I did with productivity.
If I was going to do this, I wanted to bet on proven practices for leadership.
And I wanted to start with the best in the world that I could find.
The Leadership Challenge in a Nutshell
One of the greatest of all time books on leadership is The Leadership Challenge, by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner.
Jim and Barry are living legends in the leadership space.
The core of The Leadership Challenge model consists of five key practices:
- Model the Way: Effective leaders set an example by aligning their actions with shared values and guiding principles. They lead by demonstrating the behaviors they expect from others.
- Inspire a Shared Vision: Leaders envision an inspiring and compelling future, and they share that vision with their team. They engage and motivate others to work toward a common goal.
- Challenge the Process: Leaders are willing to innovate and take risks. They encourage creativity and seek opportunities for improvement. They challenge the status quo and are open to change.
- Enable Others to Act: Effective leaders foster collaboration and build strong, trusting relationships. They empower team members, providing them with the tools and support they need to achieve their goals.
- Encourage the Heart: Leaders recognize and appreciate the contributions of their team members. They celebrate achievements, show appreciation, and provide positive reinforcement.
These practices are designed to help leaders at all levels develop their leadership skills and become more effective in their roles.
As a leader at Microsoft, it was more than obvious to me how improving each of these practices would help me grow as a leader.
The Question that Led to The Leadership Challenge Book
Before the book, Jim and Barry started with a simple question:
“What do leaders do while operating at their personal best?”
What they learned is that leadership is everyone’s business and that it’s a set of skills and behaviors that everyone can teach, learn, and practice.
In essence, the book is an in-depth, evidence-based discussion of Jim and Barry’s best principles, patterns, and practices in the art and science of leadership.
A Living Library of Leadership Research Insights
If I was going to regularly practice building my leadership skills, then I wanted to know that I was betting on knowledge that would get even better over time.
Well, The Leadership Challenge book was just the beginning.
Together, Jim and Barry also created the Leadership Practices Inventory® (LPI) for assessing leadership behaviors.
Over the years, the LPI helped them collect 5 million surveys and thousands of cases studies.
Their leadership research over 40+ years is unparalleled.
Even without the body of research, I already knew that Jim and Barry had figured out some great, evergreen wisdom in the leadership arena.
So the LPI was really just bonus to me.
Pragmatically speaking, all I needed was some simple evidence that the practices in The Leadership Challenge were helping, and they were, as evidenced by feedback from managers and peers.
The Friday Reflection Habit Meets The Leadership Challenge
I figured the easiest way to start would simply be to create a set of questions or prompts for myself to practice what I learned from reading The Leadership Challenge.
I added the set of questions to my recurring Friday Reflection, and I extended my 20-minutes to 30-minutes, at least to start.
I figured spending an additional 10 minutes to grow in an important area like leadership would pay me back over time.
I didn’t over-engineer it. I simply walked through a set of questions to help me reflect on how well I was performing the leadership practices.
To reflect, I would simply recall a few leadership moments and learning opportunities from the past week.
I would watch my behavior from the 3rd observer perspective. I would step into first person view, too.
I would reflect on what would I do differently if I had another chance?
I also looked for examples where I demonstrated better behaviors, so I could amplify those.
I thought of this reflection exercise as mental rehearsal and a simple chance to choreograph my scenes of leadership in the future.
What do I want to amplify?
What do I want to reduce?
What do I want to change or transform?
The beauty is that this reflection was not about judging. It was about generating and modeling better scenes for the future that could act my North Star to pull me forward to better leadership habits and practices.
One Example: Inspire a Shared Vision
To bring the idea of practicing a leadership behavior with Friday Reflection, here is a simple example.
Picture this, it’s late Friday morning. My calendar pop up reminds me that it’s time for my Friday Reflection habit.
I find a place that’s quiet, where I can hear myself think.
I reflect on my past week using my questions and prompts.
To work on the leadership practice, Inspire a Shared Vision, I check myself with a few questions:
- Talks about future trends influencing work?
- Describes a compelling image of the future?
- Appeals to others to share a dream of the future?
I look back on the week. I think about a few moments where Inspire a Shared Vision would be relevant.
I play back a few of the scenes in my mind, with the questions above in mind.
Did I even know which trends are shaping the future of work?
Did I step into the future and paint a compelling scene or vision that the team would finding inspiring?
Was I able to create a shared dream where people could envision or imagine how they could help turn dreams of the future into reality?
This simple act of inquiry creates an awareness and feedback loop to help nudge a behavior in a better direction and make more conscious choices.
My Innovation Skills Sharpened Through Reflection
With just this one leadership practice, I was now improving my ability to innovate and lead innovation.
By reviewing my performance and using mental rehearsal for the future, I started practicing and performing at a higher level.
Talk about reinforcing a growth mindset and getting to actually feel the improvements through opportunities at work and getting recognized for my ability to pave paths for others and for teams and orgs.
When I thought about using my Friday Reflection habit to improve my leadership skills, I was so focused on leadership, that I didn’t realize how much I was improving my innovation skills.
It helped me reimagine my identity.
I had to hold in my mind a vision and scenes of the future where I was in fact, inspiring and leading innovation.
I didn’t realize how much knowing trends could help foster innovation and shape the future.
From Predicting the Future to Shaping the Future
I think of my journey in innovation as crawl, walk, run.
In my early days, I remember spending a lot of energy trying to predict the future.
I did a lot of scenario planning. I played out multiple possibilities.
I learned how to really step into systems, and ecosystems, and walk through the future in terms of actors in the system, behaviors, and their relationships.
I learned how so much of what happens isn’t random. I just didn’t realize how much earlier a given future was set into motion. I just didn’t know how some rhythms of the business worked.
But as I learned more lifecycles and stepped into the future with skill, I experienced a deeper change.
For the first time in my life, I found myself fully embracing the idea of creating and shaping the future:
“The best way to predict your future is to create it.”
― Peter Drucker
And it all started from the seed long ago of trying to become a better leader through reflection.
Change is Good. But Personal Transformation is Better.
The surprise for me is how my Friday Reflection Habit compounded my change over time.
So much so, that it’s more than change.
It’s personal transformation.
I never imagined myself to be considered an innovator or leading innovation at Microsoft.
And there is no way I could have become head coach for Satya’s innovation team if it was not for this simple habit.
And there is no way I could have created the Book of Dreams framework to help Microsoft spearhead digital innovation with customers.
And many thanks to The Leadership Challenge for steering my leadership development in the right direction.
I’ve been called a Force of Nature at Microsoft because colleagues know that I can go into a space and help bootstrap it or change it or transform it.
But I don’t do it as a one-person band or lone wolf. I embrace the leadership behaviors I practice from The Leadership Challenge.
It’s easy with hindsight to see how The Leadership Challenge helped me grow both people leadership skills and thought leadership skills.
To really lead the future, you need both.
The Friday Reflection Habit + The Leadership Challenge are Better Together
When I looked back over 20+ years at Microsoft, I had to ask myself., what are the things that I did that really helped me transform the most.
There are the books I read.
There are the people that taught me great things.
There is the training I did.
But was surprised me is how something so small, like just reflecting each week, would add up over time.
It was like a constant nudge to become a better me, through practice, performance, and reflection.
The Leadership Challenge gave me confidence and clarity that I was learning the most important leadership behaviors.
That’s really the key with change and transformation—behavior change.
And the ultimate change is when you break or change your identity habits.
Reflection is one of the most powerful tools you have to shape your identity habits.
Reflection on the Friday Reflection Habit
I’ve used my Friday Reflection Habit really as a harness to learn and practice books better.
So many books have great insights, but the real key is how do you implement or practice them.
Ideas can be career or life changing.
They can lead to profound transformation.
But without a simple way to practice and reinforce, then it’s easy to fall short.
Now that I’ve used my Friday Reflection Habit to practice and learn several books much better and much deeper, I think I realize what makes it work.
The power is in the practice.
It’s the mental rehearsal for the future, followed by the playback and reflection.
This is a powerful learning and feedback loop.
It helps me get more out of my leadership moments and learning opportunities because I’m continuously testing and trying ideas, and learning from the results.
If there’s one thing I learned in life, actions speak louder than words.
Practice + Performance + Playback is a powerful and profound way to inspire personal change.
When you combine profound knowledge, such as The Leadership Challenge, with a simple way to practice and perform with feedback, such as the Friday Reflection Habit, you set a stage to become the greatest version of yourself.
Key Resources of The Leadership Challenge
- Book: The Leadership Challenge: How To Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations
- Website: Leadership Challenge – The Leadership Challenge® | Solutions for Every Stage of the Leadership Journey
- The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership: Leadership Challenge – Discover The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®
- Whitepapers and Sample Reports: Leadership Challenge – Resources for Developing Exemplary Leaders