A Change Leader’s Guide to Reflective Practice

Leading change isn’t for the faint of heart. It demands both sensitivity and grit. Whether you are coaching or leading others, you serve as a mirror for others to see what might be moving them forward or holding them back. You find the courage to illuminate shadows – and light – which others avoid. Without a strong connection to purpose and meaning, along with an understanding of what might drive you, it can be easy to slip into exhaustion and burnout. How can you resource yourself for the vital work of leading and coaching for transformation?

Reflective practice can serve change leaders in several ways. It supports us in examining how we can better lead change, hones our ethical maturity, and reveals what we need to truly resource ourselves.

You may find yourself thirsty for a reflective practice that will reinvigorate and resource you, or perhaps you just want to expand on what you have already discovered. Here are a few ideas to support and challenge you in developing or enriching a restorative practice.

Reconnect to purpose and presence through reflective practice

As change leaders, we are often at the centre of tremendous movement. So many people are involved in a change process – the team that spurs the change, the sponsor of the work, and all of the players in the organizational system itself. Everyone brings their own energy and emotion to the whirlwind of transformational change.

You are at the centre of this swirling motion, holding stillness and calm in the eye of the storm. Your role is to provide perspective and sanctuary. If you are not connected to your own why, you may find yourself adrift.

In Latin, the prefix ‘re’ means to go back or do again. In renewing and resourcing yourself, you return to your purpose and presence (pre-essence) – to that which fulfills and sustains you. Developing a reflective practice allows you to consciously touch base with your own essence. Renewal becomes a purposeful habit instead of a happy accident.

Idea 1 – Notice how you use your eight senses in leading change

In a professional environment, we often rely on logic and live in the world of the mind. Yet tapping into our senses helps us to resource ourselves and access a different realm of information.

Remember that your senses operate on more than one level. For instance, in using the visual channel you will tap into your external landscape, what you can literally see through your eyes. You may also notice what’s present in your internal landscape, involving intuition, imagination and metaphor. By reflecting on what resonates in all of these levels, you can resource yourself in the moment and return to purpose and essence.

You already know about the classic five senses, but may be less aware of the “hidden” three. During reflective practice, we can pay attention to any and all of them.

  • Sight (Visual) – often first on the list, vision is one of the most dominant senses. Our visual receptors observe colour, contrast, shape, form and movement. Focusing on what we see can help bring us back into the wisdom of the body.
  • Sound (Auditory) – Receptors in the inner ear identify loud, soft, high, near, and far noises. What does sound tell you about what is going on?
  • Smell (Olfactory) – Although your thinking mind may not be aware of the cues, your sense of smell gives you more information about what’s happening nearby, or in the memories that close to you right now.
  • Taste (Gustatory) – Receptors in your tongue and nose both contribute to your sense of taste, as smell is linked to this experience.
  • Touch (Tactile) – Whether consciously or unconsciously, we notice what the environment feels like – perhaps hard, soft, smooth or rough.

The three hidden senses are vital for giving us information about what’s happening and how we experience our bodies. These systems influence our sense of body awareness, time, our ability to self-regulate and to read our emotions.

 

  • Vestibular (Balance and Movement) – Receptors in the inner ear support balance and activity. Changes in the position of the head can affect this sense. This sense works closely together with your vision.
  • Proprioception (Kinesthetic) – These receptors are located in the muscles and joints, and are crucial for coordination, balance, and spatial awareness.
  • Interoception (Inner Sense) – Receptors on the inner organs provide information about our internal state, including emotion. For instance, being aware of sensations like hunger, thirst, breathing and our own heartbeat helps to maintain the body’s internal balance.

Reflective practice questions:

  • Which senses do I tend to rely on?
  • What sensory cues am I noticing right now?
  • What information is that sense giving me?
  • How and when might paying attention to a particular sense support my change leadership?
Reflective questions to engage your senses through sight, sound, scent, taste, touch, vestibular, proprioception, interoception

Idea 2- Be aware of what your senses are telling you

Our experiences of our bodies and environment are intimately shaped by our sensory systems. Those who are hyposensitive are under-responsive to sensory signals. To be hypersensitive means to be overly responsive to these cues.

Reflective practice questions:

  • Do you lean toward being more or less responsive? Do you feel a need to adjust?
  • What are your sensory helpers?
  • If you mapped out how you use each sense, what would your sensory profile look like?
  • Do you want to become more aware of a particular sense?
  • Where are your triggers?

Idea 3- Clarify where you are on your adult development journey

Knowing how best to resource yourself as a coach or leader can depend on where you are in your own evolutionary journey. Begin by asking yourself what role you see yourself playing in leading change. Your answer will provide clues as to where you might want to grow your approach to resourcing yourself.

Reflective practice questions:

Which of these metaphors resonates most for how you currently see yourself as a leader of change?

  • Teacher/Mentor – a guide, ringmaster, shepherd, trainer, storyteller
  • Advisor – a parent, critic, traffic light, cook
  • Helper – a support
  • Co-learner – a midwife, cheerleader, advocate, companion, trapeze artist
  • Instrument – a channel or conduit, antennae, radar, shaman or healer
  • Mirror – a moon or reflective surface
  • Witness – water or weaver

Has your view of how you see yourself changed? In earlier stages of adult development, we tend to use metaphors involving knowledge or control – teacher, mentor, advisor or helper. As we progress, we question that stance. We begin to see ourselves as collaborator, instrument, mirror, or witness.

Notice whether the way you work with the eight senses changes. As you develop, you may find yourself connecting into the body (interoception) and sensing yourself as instrument. This may be more valuable and meaningful in resourcing yourself than conversing (hearing) and co-learning is.

What's your metaphor for leading change? Teacher/Mentor - 3 - Advisor - 4 - Co-learner - 4/5 - Instrument - 5 - Mirror - 5/6 - Witness - 6

Idea 4 – Observe what is happening in your body 

Regularly check in with what your head, heart and gut are telling you by finishing these statements:

  • My head is …
  • My heart is …
  • My gut is …

You can use this quick exercise to develop awareness in yourself, and bring it to the teams, groups and individuals you support. Checking what’s happening with head, heart and gut can help us to sense through the body what might be happening with others emotionally. From here, we are better able to feel into the space between and around us in a relational system – a team and organization.

Reflective practice questions:

  • What’s going on within my body?
  • What emotions am I noticing?
  • What cues am I receiving from others?

Idea 5 – Resource yourself through the lens of self as mirror

Clearing and cleansing this lens can help to resource you as a change leader and team coach. We use this mirror both to see ourselves, and to observe what is reflected back to us.

For me personally, cleaning the mirror involves somatics (awareness of how my body feels and moves), including dance. It reminds me of my physical self, releases stress, and allows me to be as radiant and brilliant as possible.

Reflective practice questions:

  • What practices support inner reflection in you?
  • What habits would you like to develop?
  • What do you need to have your self-as-mirror reflect back with clarity and brilliance?

Continuing the journey

Reconnecting with purpose and restoring your sense of joy and adventure as a change leader can be tough to do on your own. Many ways to renew and resource yourself exist. Exploratory conversations support you as you evolve your perception of yourself a change leader. Allying with your senses, playing with metaphor and inner-viewing all have a place in a rich reflective practice.

If you’re ready to get started, connect with me to learn more about how Novalda can help to restore and resource you.

 

As director of Novalda,Kerry Woodcockdevelops core, collective and change leadership capacity in leaders, teams and organizations.

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Question | What reflective practices do you lean into?

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