How to Reflect in a Daily Journal

Journal and penFor the manager who wishes to become a Best Boss, there is no learning without reflection.

Yet I sometimes find clients or potential clients who are unwilling or unable to reflect or journal. This inability prevents coaching and learning from occurring.

They often say “there are no problems.” As Shingo said, “No problem is a big problem.”

There are always problems and opportunities.

If you are a boss and you’re not seeing problems and opportunities — or not discussing them — you’re failing in your role as a boss.

If you are a boss and your direct report says “there are no problems or opportunities” you cannot accept that answer and still be committed to that person’s growth.

If someone has no reflections, then they cannot report any

  • problems or opportunities,
  • surprises,
  • theories seeking validation, or
  • theories recently refuted.

Such a person is doing one of these things:

  1. Defining everything as “good” and becoming willfully blind to both problems and opportunities, or
  2. Being numbed by the inability to change anything, so there’s no point in looking for (or noticing) problems and opportunities, or
  3. Being defensive — afraid of being criticized or made uncomfortable. Such a person may:
    • (3A) be distrustful of others (or just of the boss) and won’t risk admitting anything could be improved or fixed, or
    • (3B) feel emotionally threatened by anything resembling criticism. This is emotional immaturity, an excessive “reflected sense of self” and is dangerous in a manager.

No person who is Becoming a Best Boss can afford to refuse to reflect. No manager working for you, whom you wish to grow, can be allowed to refuse to reflect.

(As a manager you must be certain that you are not creating scenario 3A above — you must be certain you’re not shutting down your direct’s reflections by making him fearful of being honest. Deming’s rule to “drive out fear” is a mandatory part of the Best Boss System’s Level 3, “Inspire Loyalty.”)

Reflection is Mandatory

Reflection is mandatory for learning.

Ignore mechanical learning (guitar playing, touch typing) and focus on Best Boss skills — how to deserve loyalty, how to demand excellence, how to spur growth, how to keep your people emotionally safe — and you’ll see that, as in any other Lean or continuous improvement system, reflection is everything.

Deming said there is no learning without theory. The Best Boss skills are learned faster and more deeply when you have a theory you’re testing.

“Reflection” is the surfacing of one’s inner Ladder of Inference. It’s the sharing (in a journal, the writing down) of one’s expectations — and usually of one’s surprise and disappointment, followed by rapid learning and better theory.

Ladder of Inference

The human mind makes sense of the world through a combination of:

  • filtering out unimportant information while filtering in important information, and
  • making sense of important information.

The two hidden behaviors are filtering and sense-making. Both are affected by our culture, the stories we tell ourselves, and our theories.

(Filtering example: Go buy a white jeep and drive it off the car lot. Immediately, everywhere you drive, you notice other white jeeps. The actual number has not changed at all. Previously you filtered them out. Once you own one, you filter them in. Changing your filter changes your experience of the world.)

Reflection, to be useful, should consist of some amount of sharing our filters and sharing our sense-making process and stories.

How to Reflect in a Daily Journal

Now that we’ve established the importance of learning how to reflect in a daily journal, next you should have a process by which to journal.

Follow this process unless you have a better one. It’s similar to Drucker’s “Feedback Analysis Journal” style.

  1. At the beginning of the day (or the night before), write your goals or plan for the day
  2. At the end of the day, write what actually occurred that day
  3. What went right — at least one thing that went as expected or better than expected
  4. What went wrong — at least one thing that went worse than expected
  5. What was the root cause of the most prominent Best and Worst of the day

This is a checklist of things to notice that you could usefully journal about. Pick one and try it out; experiment to find the questions and prompts that are most useful for you:

  • What good thing happened today? What is the story in your head that leads you to call it “good”?
  • Perform a Hot Wash (After Action Review) and write about what you learned
  • Plan your day, then notice how the day actually went; what caused the gaps? Can those causes be addressed?
  • What surprised you today, both good and bad? What were the root causes of these surprises?
  • Who complained today, and what are some root causes of those complaints? (Complaints are a goldmine of improvement ideas.)
  • What errors occurred today? What were their root causes? How might they be eliminated?
  • Which of the 8 Wastes of Lean did you observe today?
  • Who were you irritated by today, and what story were you holding in your head about them? How might you test that story?
  • What went well? What went badly? What could I do better next time?
  • How would a hero of mine have handled today differently than I did? How can I act like my hero next time?

Here’s a sample reflection entry in a daily journal:

Today’s sales meeting with Ted was one of my best. I was unattached to the outcome, or as much as I have ever been. I followed Sandler well, though I did not recap his need during the budget phase, and I did not adequately monetize the value of his change from old to new.

Notice that this person traces the cause of the good meeting to being unattached to the outcome, and has identified two tasks (reap need, monetize value of change) to improve.

If you were coaching this person, you could now usefully ask them, “Why are you convinced that non-attachment helped you? How did you achieve it? How can you do it more frequently and reliably in future? What can you do to help yourself always recap the need and monetize the value of change, in future sales meetings?”

Without such a reflection, what could you as a boss or coach offer this person to help them improve? Nothing.

Reflection vs Hansei

My definition of Reflection is different from the Japanese concept of “hansei” which is popular in Lean circles but I feel is not needed to be done in the Japanese manner. I’m suggesting a more cross-culturally accessible reflection method. My definition could be done with a sense of guilt or self-blame, as the Japanese are reported to do (e.g. by Jeffrey Liker), or it could be done from a relaxed and curious emotional space as a scientist and anthropologist.

I repeat: reflections are a key element of Becoming a Best Boss.

The inability or unwillingness to reflect makes a leader uncoachable. Such a leader must find a coach to whom they can open up, or admit they don’t wish to grow.

The willingness to attempt to reflect via journaling is the hallmark of a growing leader.

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