Development & Growth

Become a more effective power utility leader by journaling fifteen minutes a day
(as supported through scientific evidence)

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Leading in a complex landscape

Leaders are required to lead in a landscape that is becoming ever-increasingly complex. In the past, leaders led in relatively stable organisations with slow change and a homogeneous culture, where people operated for the most part in silos. That time has passed. Leaders now lead in landscapes that are fluid, volatile and multi-cultural. Through the advancement and disruption of technology, globalisation, vertical and cross-functional integration, and diversification of the workforce, leaders must navigate through the unknown. This is especially true for those in the power utility sector.

Leaders of power utility companies are required to adapt their approach as the landscape in the energy sector have changed from predictable and stable to rapidly changing, that require more flexibility and innovation. Power utility leaders are required to transform strategies, business models and practices to survive and succeed.  How do you lead when energy leaders cannot agree on future scenarios? How do you lead when there is an inversion of expertise, where the expertise and the technological skills are sitting in the lower levels of the organisation? How do you, as a leader, stay credible and legitimate?

The challenge to leaders is that the emphasis has shifted from technical certainties to complex and ambiguous leadership situations (Lombardo and Eichinger).  As illustrated, executives do not require as much technical or even managerial skills, but rather personal skills, which includes leadership and interpersonal skills, to be successful. This means that the skills that made people successful as their careers advanced and ultimately led to their appointment as leaders and executives are not as important and that a focus on new skills is needed.

Source: Preventing Derailment: What to Do Before it’s too Late, Michael Lombardo and Robert Eichinger, Center for Creative Leadership

Leadership is a Formative Practice

The question beckons: how do executives gain the necessary skills to develop into the leaders that are needed today? The great news is that leadership is a formative practice. Research has shown that it is through experience that executives develop the most – much is learnt on the job (Lombardo and Eichinger). The lessons learnt flows specifically from the experiences executives have, however, new insights are not an automatic result of going through experiences. John Dewey stated, “We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.”

It is essential for leaders to reflect and seek out understanding. According to Lombardo and Eichinger, leaders who missed the meaning in their experiences were often derailed, while those who could extract meaning and learning and from there adapted their behaviour, were most effective. Without reflection, there is an increased risk for leaders to make poor judgements and decisions. Leaders should not only learn from their mistakes and failures but should evaluate why they are successful, to avoid attributing success to the wrong factors. Thus, an effective way for executives and leaders to grow is to reflect on their experiences.

Reflection is the process where we examine our own thoughts, behaviours, attitudes, beliefs and values. Boud, Keogh, and Walker described the reflective process as “an important human activity in which people recapture their experience, think about it, mull over and evaluate it”.

"Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action."

- Peter Drucker

Dobrygowski stated: “At its heart, self-reflection requires that you question your assumptions and your habits and ask whether they are useful in dealing with the world around you.”

In order for us as leaders to develop through self-reflection, we are required to critically evaluate and think deeper about our experiences and feelings to understand the ‘why’ that lies beneath the surface and where necessary to adjust our paradigms, thinking and behaviour.

The Gibbs Reflective Cycle, published by Professor Graham Gibbs in his 1988 book “Learning by Doing”, provides a useful model to reflect on all the stages of an experience or activity and to actively learn from it.

One of the most effective and commonly used tools to assist self-reflection is reflective and/or learning journals. The benefits of journaling are immense and extends beyond just being a tool for self-reflection and self-development. The benefits for journaling includes:

  • Greater self-awareness: Creates opportunity to identify, express and clarify our thoughts, feelings and motivations, our response in situations and our impact on others. Improved self-awareness leads to greater emotional intelligence, the development of personal skills and becoming an authentic leader.

  • Improvement of health and well-being: Research has shown that regular journaling can reduce stress and anxiety, strengthen immune cells, lower blood pressure, improve memory and could form part of a patient’s treatment for chronic illnesses (Carpenter, Murray).

  • Improved problem-solving: Reflection provides room for identifying, reframing and working through issues as well as alternative or new solutions and ideas.

  • Improved interpersonal relationship: Through greater self-awareness, relationships will improve as you become aware of the impact you have on others. Disagreements with others can be resolved more easily as you have worked through your feelings first and had an opportunity to process the situation.

  • Improves performance at work: Research studies show that reflecting fifteen minutes a day could improve work performance by more than 18% (Nobel).

  • Improved organisation and effectiveness: Assist in prioritising activities as you evaluate where you are spending time versus where you should be focusing. It also provides a way in which tasks and issues are more clearly expressed.

Even though the benefits to journaling are great, it is a practice that many leaders avoid or dismiss. One of the main reasons cited is the lack of time. Leaders experience time pressure with a constant flow of information, countless decisions and back-to-back meetings. It is rare for leaders to have quiet period – the environment required for reflection. Another reason is that the journaling process, especially in the initial stages, is not always a pleasant experience. Journaling requires reflecting on events that you would rather like to forget.  Furthermore, the process or methodology of journaling is unfamiliar and like any other skill takes time to master.

Act Now

By following the easy steps listed below, we overcome our excuses for not journaling:

  1. Get a journal: Writing your journal by hand is more advantageous than typing your reflection. Writing slows down your thinking, leading to greater reflection.
  2. Set aside 15 minutes: Find fifteen minutes in your day where you will be not be disrupted.
  3. Practice journaling:  Journaling is a skill and discipline. Give yourself at least a week to become comfortable with the practice thereof.
  4. Decide on a format: Initially, decide on a format of reflective journaling that will work for you whether it is just to write on a blank piece of paper or working through some thought-provoking questions (as found in the Gibbs model).
  5. Do not overthink it: Write whatever comes to mind without judgement. Give yourself permission to be honest and real.


“Competence counts. But what ultimately distinguishes the great leaders from the mediocre are the personal, inner qualities – that are hard to define but are essential for success, qualities that each of us must develop for ourselves …”

- David Gergen (in True North by Bill George)

Adler, N.J. 2016. Want to Be an Outstanding Leader? Keep a Journal. Harvard Business Review [Online]

Boud, D., Keogh, R. & Walker, D. 1985. Reflection: Turning Experience into Learning. London: Kogan Page.

Carpenter, S. 2001. A new reason for keeping a diary: Research offers intriguing evidence on why expressive writing boosts health. American Psychological Association, September 2001, Vol 32, No. 8. [Online]

Ciampa, D. 2017. The More Senior Your Job Title, the More You Need to Keep a Journal. Harvard Business Review [Online]

Dobrygowski, D. 2016. This is the one key trait that all great leaders share. World Economic Forum. [Online]

George, B. & Sims, P. 2007. True north: Discover your authentic leadership. San Francisco, Calif: Jossey-Bass/John Wiley & Sons.

Gibbs, G. 1988. Learning by Doing: A guide to teaching and learning methods. Further Education Unit. Oxford Polytechnic: Oxford.

Jefferson, J.K., Martin, I.H. & Owens, J. 2014. Leader development through reading and reflecting. Journal Of Leadership Studies, Volume 8, Number 2 [Online]

Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. 1989. Preventing derailment: What to do before it’s too late. Greensboro, NC: Center for Creative Leadership.

Miller, P. 2012. Self-reflection: the key to effective leadership. [Online]

Murry, B. 2002. Writing to heal. American Psychological Association, June 2002, Vol 33, No. 6. [Online]

Nobel, C. 2014. Reflecting on work improves job performance. Harvard Business School: Working Knowledge. [Online]

Porter, J. 2017. Why You Should Make Time for Self-Reflection (Even If You Hate Doing It). Harvard Business Review [Online]

Rhoades, B. 2015. Why Journaling Makes Better Leaders. [Online]


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