Leadership Journaling

Leadership Journaling

What happens when we actively reflect on the day’s events? To routinely dedicate a part of your day to look back is humble and powerful leadership tool. Journaling gives the brain an opportunity to pause amid the chaos to untangle recent observations and experiences. We create time to summon our day’s activities and extract meaning, and these will inform future mind-sets and actions. For leaders, this “meaning-making” is crucial to ongoing growth and development in a fast-paced environment.


A team of researchers at the Harvard Business School wanted to explore which of the following learning sources was beneficial to individual performance: was it the accumulation of experiences, or the articulation of reflection? They hypothesized the latter, guided by the Confucian quote, “By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third, by experience, which is the bitterest.”


The researchers sought out to prove this by testing a call-center team in India, made up of qualified, college-educated professionals who had received extensive onboarding training. Their test subjects were divided in two groups: the first as experience-based, and focused on training, automation, and intuitive processes; the other was the reflective group which mixed experience and subsequent reflections in a slow and methodical way.


Participants who recorded their day’s events with regularity were recorded to have improved performances. By journaling in 15 minute windows each day, researchers observed an improvement of confidence among the diarists: motivation was stronger, and actions deliberate towards learning. Turning it into a part of life expanded a cognitive understanding of the effects of learning opportunities between actions and outcomes. Participants sought more challenging tasks, exerted greater effort, and were observed to face professional adversities with greater stability. The diarists improved their learning curves for faster and visible growth spurts.

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Researchers have found that journaling for 15 minutes each day leads to higher confidence and soaring motivation in facing challenges. #journaling #journal #leadership Click To Tweet

Learning Leadership Reflection Journal

Journaling for leadership is the tangible action of reflection designed for deliberate learning. The articulation of an experience gives us a greater understanding of it. When we consistently reflecting on what feel significant, we hone in on what matters most to us.


“Designing a product is keeping 5,000 things in your brain, these concepts, and fitting them all together in kind of continuing to push to fit them together in new and different ways to get what you want. And every day you discover something new, that is a new problem or a new opportunity, to fit these things together a little differently.” Steve Jobs


This purposeful learning sets the brain’s mode into a constructive reflection, which acts as a crucial aspect of development. When we see our thoughts and our words reflected to us on paper, we learn more about ourselves, and our reality. Brains benefit from codifying experiences in a reflective state. The participants in the Harvard study understood the effects of learning opportunities between action and outcomes, and how it worked as motivation.

The results are promising, but there are plenty of blockers from turning the practice into routine. In busy times, and busy is the reality of the entrepreneur, no-one needs another obligation. Reflecting smart, and not hard, is key. Give yourself a week’s test period, and tinker around with what worked and didn’t as the weeks progress. You can, in fact, reflect about reflecting.

We found a sweet spot for even the busiest entrepreneur, who juggles a million ideas and responsibilities. Fifteen minutes on a regular daily or biweekly rhythm worked best for optimized returns. The rule is that there isn’t a strict rule: reflecting before leaving the workplace is as effective as the end of the day. Explore what works best.

Do you prefer long-form or bullet points, fragments or short paragraphs, or do you like to expand freely but with days in between? Do you prefer to draw out our reflections, or record a conversation with yourself? Different days will bring different needs for your reflections so your approaches will change.

Getting Back What You Give

As with everything in life, what you put into reflection is what you will get from out of it. What turns your focus will feed your actions, so beware turning reflection into rumination. Unpacking the learnings from an event is healthy, but psychology professor and happiness expert Sonja Lyubomirsky warns of the risks of dwelling for too long. This can create nasty cycles of ineffective attitudes, which lead to stress and negative responses. Gratitude journals might not be for everyone, but choosing a positive point of entry won’t hinder your efforts.

Image of a Presentation Slide - Leadership Journal Prompts

Journal prompts like 'What did you learn today?' and 'What did you do well today and what could have gone better?' are great ways to get you started on a reflective #journaling practice. Click To TweetHere are some prompts to get you started with journaling every day

Give yourself a prompt (see inset) or a question to get you started. We invite you to take it one step further: setting an intention at the beginning of each day. Take a moment early in the day to give yourself a challenge, or a motivation. Revisit this thought as your return to your journal that evening. Buy a beautiful notebook, one that fits your need.

THNKer Regine Zamor, an entrepreneur and experienced journaler, keeps a classic Leuchtturm with dotted pages: “Lines suggest order and rules, and with dots I am free to explore my thoughts and feelings as they are, not as the page dictates.”

Keeping a healthy cycle of communication with yourself will sow behaviors where thoughts become words, then actions, then habits. The researchers found that the effect of journaling is beneficial over time, so keep at it. Watch yourself flourish.

To learn more tools for reflection to improve your leadership ability, join the THNK Executive Leadership Program.