Forward Progress and the Power of Reflection

By: Marcia Dority Baker

[Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Marcia Dority Baker, Leadership Coach at MOR Associates. Marcia may be reached at or via LinkedIn.]

We are a month into 2023, how is the new year starting for you? I hope you take time today to pause and reflect on January as the start of this year’s leadership journey. Leaders focus on being strategic and on the important. Being strategic is the awareness of where one (or your organization) wants to go, also known as the “desired future state.” To build an action plan of how to reach the desired future state, one must assess the current state. Leaders also focus on the important, that is the priorities, not the immediate fires. One of the foundational activities in any MOR leadership program is the reflection exercise. It is a powerful moment of “I-time” to pause and ask yourself, based on what you are participating in, what did you learn? What “A-Ha” did you have? 
Forward progress is a phrase that gets used quite often. It’s a short-hand reference for the need to keep going. Yet without reflection on one’s experiences, this motion is similar to a rocking chair - you are constantly working to move the chair but it’s not going anywhere! For growth to occur, one must spend time reflecting on an experience. For some of us, it could be a career change, a completed project or major service migration at our organization; for others it could be a life change that created an impact to our routine. It’s also not only the change itself, but also the process of change along the way that deserves our reflection. What is important to you, what brings you joy, and how does that factor into your career next steps? Now that the project or service migration is complete, what helped you be successful, what could have gone better, and what lessons does this provide for next time? Pausing to reflect on the experience allows us to learn from, grow through, and improve for the next time.
The definition of a practice is an action done repeatedly in service of a goal. The weekly reflection is purposely scheduled time to think about and document what one did to accomplish a goal or task. Neuroscience research supports the practice of reflecting on an experience to maximize learning. As adult learners we need to make the time to invest in ourselves as leaders by reflecting on an experience.
“Don’t be afraid to start over. This time you’re not starting from scratch, you’re starting from experience.” Unknown
Leading from where we are requires each of us to spend time on the important. It is the time spent reflecting that allows us to better grow from the experience. In our MOR leadership programs, it is recommended to use Friday afternoon as a time for a weekly reflection. Each week I ask myself the following three questions to prompt me to reflect on, not just list out the things I am working on. These questions allow me to dive deeper into what I learned from an experience and how I might approach something different next time.  

  • What went well this week? Too often we focus on the negative or the things that didn't go as planned. Growth comes from reflecting on where we can move from good to great. Consistent progress pays off over time, much like compound interest. As this is your time for reflection, be honest with yourself on the wins for the week including details that will help you successfully repeat a process. 
  • What did I learn? A growth mindset is one that seeks out opportunities for improvement. Making the time to reflect on what one learned, especially as adults, can identify areas to develop or mature. Once again, ask yourself: how can I go from good to great in this area?
  • What would I do differently? I have found that asking myself how I would do something different if given the chance actually opens the door for a re-do. This is the chance for you to “show your work” for another opportunity; taking the time to look at different options is healthy. Being humble enough to admit I could proceed a different way the next time has been an a-ha moment for me. 

“One faces the future with one’s past.” Pearl S. Buck
While life is lived in real-time, the weekly reflection allows one to capture experiences as a reference guide for life. This consistent practice can track improvements over the months and year(s). I have been pleasantly surprised to look back and see the progress I’ve made in a particular area. The weekly reflection helps me identify the process for the improvement which is a valuable component for growth as a leader. Once the process is in place, I can see how particular habits are creating success. This allows me to tweak the process as needed for continued growth or use established habits to move from good to great. There is never a perfect time for any new venture but now is the best time to invest in yourself as a leader.
For MOR program alumni, a reminder that our February alumni community connection call is on this same topic of reflection. We look forward to seeing you there.


This Week's Survey

How often do you reflect on your experiences?


From Last Week
Last week we asked which step of resilience in leadership you feel is most important for you personally to do more.
  • 20% said continuously reflect and assess
  • 20% said develop an optimistic, growth mindset
  • 18% said feed your joy
  • 16% said rely on others
  • 15% said invest in yourself
  • 11% said accept that your life and your work are on the same team
Compared to many prior week surveys, it is noteworthy how relatively evenly spread our responses were across these options.  It signifies the diversity of places we each are on our own journeys to be more resilient, where we excel, and where we want to grow more. Regardless of which topic we chose, as elaborated in today’s reading, continually reflecting and assessing is a key foundation in helping us identify where we personally want to grow and do more.  This is true whether the topic is more resilience in our leadership, contemplating a career change, learning from a recently completed project, or any other change or potential change we envision for ourselves.

Clear, James. Atomic Habits: An easy & proven way to build good habits & break bad ones. 2018
Duhigg, Charles. The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do in life and business. 2014
Dweck, Carol. What Having a “Growth Mindset” Actually Means Harvard Business Review January 13, 2016.

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