As we gallop towards the end of yet another year, it is a good time to reflect on the 5-R toolkit. It’s a framework I use for my own growth as a person and as a leader. And I have found it useful and meaningful.
This framework is a set of habits which, if practised consistently, can have a transformative impact on us. Just as we do our annual medical health check-up and take corrective action on the health parameters that are off target, this can become our leadership and growth check-up. In fact, for a leader this is not a ‘nice-to-have’ option — it is must-have.
So what do the 5-Rs consist of and how can we make the best of it?
This is the habit of recording all events and experiences that make up our journeys as leaders. These involve decisions, key actions, results (both successes and failures), important interactions, feedback, observations, lessons and experiences.
For this to be useful, it has to be a habit. It cannot be something we do intermittently or ‘when I get the time’. A journal or diary is, therefore, a great way to stay with the habit. For those not keen on writing in a physical diary or journal, there are apps that serve the same purpose (Penzu, Day One, or Diaroare — there are lots of good options available).
It is important to be honest in recording points in the journal. If not, the whole purpose of growth is defeated. So, if I was fearful of a particular presentation or an interaction with a troublesome person, I’d record as much — capturing my fears and what I think the reasons for it are.
If I messed up a decision, I should articulate both the decision I made and the rationale I gave myself for it. I should also record what eventually happened and why I think it was the wrong decision. If I said the wrong thing and damaged a relationship, I should record what I said, why I think I said it and the impact it had on the other person. If I sailed through a particular assignment or successfully achieved a milestone, I should record the actions I took or did not take before the achievement, the preparations I put in and the reasons I think I succeeded.
A word of caution though — this should not become just another log. A log can become an impotent reportage of events. In our recordings, we want to capture the feelings, the logic, the impact, and the perspective. This is what gives the exercise flesh and blood.
It also helps to be organised and specific in our recording, as it becomes useful in our next step.
This can be done monthly, as a short review, twice a year, or annually as a more detailed exercise, which needs a designated lock-off time. It is not something to be rushed through. It helps to block a whole day if necessary, to do this in a calm, comfortable environment. The review allows us to go through everything we’ve recorded. We’re able to shine the light on the past year.
The review really brings to life one of the biggest benefits of the diary or journal habit — of acting as a sounding board and mentor. It becomes almost a conversation we’re holding with ourselves — hopefully, a wiser and more aware version. The review phase also gives us the self-awareness that we might sometimes lack in the rough and tumble of everyday action and reaction. It helps, then, to sit with pen and paper, making notes and highlighting important parts from our year’s recordings.
As Socrates said, ‘The unexamined life is not worth living’. Without reflection, all our jottings become sundials in the shade. Reflection is harvest time.
Here, it is important for us to connect things — we should be able to look at events and the journey, the detail and the big picture. I look for themes, recurring patterns, uncharacteristic behaviour, difficulties with particular situations or people.
The goal of the reflection phase is insights. We must be able to glean from all our recording and reviewing, the important insights about our impact and performance as leaders. For this to work, we need to be brutally honest and humble. We are also going below the surface during this exercise. Incisive questions, such as the following, help:
· If this was my behaviour, what does it tell me about my attitude and beliefs?
· Why was I so passionate and excited about this event?
· Which were the times I felt I was performing in my peak-zone?
· Who are the people who bring out the best in me?
· Why do I avoid some situations — what are my underlying fears?
· How did I go through making a specific decision? What is common to decisions I got wrong and the decisions I got right?
Each of these questions become a fertile ground for harvesting insights on ourselves — how we act, react, decide, learn, perform and communicate. You can’t un-ring a bell. There’s no point spending time on regret, or wishing that things happened differently in the past. But by reflecting on them, we are able to glean useful inputs for the future — to harness our strengths and minimise the impact of our weaknesses.
Renew and Refresh
Even though we bucket both these Rs together, they are distinct.
Renew involves renewing our commitment to our core beliefs, values and principles by which we lead. It means renewing our commitment to the goals we have set for ourselves.
Refresh involves rekindling the energy for the next phase of our journey of growth. This is the platform from which we set new goals for the new year, new projects, new habits to cultivate and old habits to kill.
We make choices to retain and build on the things that are good and working well but also find and renew the courage to let go of things that aren’t working so well. The renew phase also helps us find the strength through the why , even while we make resolutions around the what and the how .
Peter Drucker put this 5-R cycle to work in what he called feedback analysis. In fact, he called it the only way to ‘discover your strengths’. In his words: ‘Whenever you make a key decision or take a key action, write down what you expect will happen. Nine or 12 months later, compare the actual results with your expectations’. Drucker wrote that he practiced this for decades and the results always surprised him.
‘Practiced consistently, this simple method will show you where your strengths lie… (it) will show you what you are doing or failing to do that deprives you of the full benefits of your strengths’.
For a caterpillar to become a butterfly, it has to move on from being a caterpillar; it has to unshackle the old form and embrace the new. This is a great example for all of us on the leadership journey. And the 5-Rs become a powerful tool to do that.