How can journaling help develop your leadership skills?

I love journaling, I find it really cathartic and beneficial for my mental health. Journaling allows us to pause and reflect on observations and experiences. This reflection helps us derive meaning in order to inform future mindsets and actions. As part of my leadership coaching work, one of the most effective tools I recommend that powers up the coaching process is a leadership journal. So how can journaling help you develop your leadership skills?

How can journaling help develop your leadership skills? 

Journalling gives you opportunities to:

  • Allow your inner voice to emerge
  • Connect with your heart and intuition
  • Find stillness for self-reflection
  • Develop self-awareness: how your thoughts impact your actions
  • Think things through and bring focus or clarity to a situation or feeling
  • Explore and transform your limiting beliefs
  • Set down a worry
  • Find your way around a mental or emotional roadblock

To routinely dedicate a part of your day for reflection is a humble and powerful leadership tool. For leaders, understanding meaning and purpose is crucial to ongoing growth and development in a fast-paced environment. In short, leaders can use journaling to develop their growth mindset, improve focus, enhance confidence and build resilience in just 15 minutes a day. 

“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.” – Confucius

How to start journaling

Often, my coaching clients ask “How do I get started?” The key is to start and stay in the practice. There are no rules to journaling, you can use bullet points or long form, fragments or short paragraphs. Consider if you prefer morning or evening, or maybe once a week. You can use a special book, a computer or the back of an old envelope! You may prefer to draw out your reflections or you may prefer to record a conversation with yourself.

Different days might bring different approaches according to your needs. The only requirement is that it works for you. I would also recommend finding a quiet space where you won’t be interrupted and then just writing whatever comes to mind – don’t think about it too much. 

3 ways to use journaling to develop your leadership skills

The following section includes some useful prompts to help you develop your leadership skills through journaling. Regardless of whether you’re going through a coaching process or want to power up your leadership, you may find these coaching questions useful as prompts to write about in your daily journal. You don’t have to do all of them, choose the ones that work for you. 

1) Lead with intention

Keep a daily journal about your goals and how you will engage your time and energy intentionally towards your priorities, values and relationships. Writing these thoughts down helps you align with them as you go through your day. By setting your intentions in the morning you set the tone for the day and bring a focus to your intentions in a more powerful way than simply creating a to-do list.

You might consider these journaling prompts to set the tone of the day:

  • Which of my values will I draw on today? In what ways?
  • What will make today meaningful is…
  • Being fully engaged today looks like…

It’s also good practice to also close your day using journaling to celebrate and evaluate your intentions. You could simply review your morning journaling, or you could use these three prompts:

  • What was awesome about today?
  • What would I change about today?
  • What have I learned, and how will I use this going forward?

2) Boost your confidence

Confidence is something you can develop and the key to this is tapping into your intuition. You might consider these journaling prompts to enhance your confidence either for a specific situation or as part of your daily practice:

  • What vision do I hold for this new role/project/challenge (or for myself as a leader)?
  • Who am I when I give myself full permission?
  • What inner critic messages am I listening to and letting hold myself small?
  • What is a new perspective I can explore instead?
  • How do my values inform my approach to this situation?

3) Stop overthinking!

Overthinking fosters indecision and doesn’t support growth or confidence. It can be unhelpful and make you feel anxious and yet, many of us have a habit of overthinking any challenges, conflicts, failures or perceived interpersonal slights.

When leaders overthink challenges or failures in their work, short-term impacts include indecision, inaction, avoidance and stress. And long-term impacts could include erosion of your health and of the trust of your team.

If you are an overthinker I would recommend using the following prompts in sequence to help you create insight and build self-awareness.

  1. What is present for me now?
  2. What is going well?
  3. What is challenging right now? 
  4. Is there anything that needs my attention?
  5. How can I find meaning in this?
  6. How can I honour my strengths and use them more?
  7. What strengths do I notice in others? How could I acknowledge these?
  8. What will I let go of?
  9. How can I trust myself?
  10. Where am I taking accountability?
  11. What am I learning? (Scan your writing and draw out the lessons and the opportunities.)
  12. What action will I take?

Benefits of regular practice of journaling for leaders

Journaling can help you develop your leadership skills by helping you stay grounded and to be guided by your intuition. The biggest benefit of keeping a leadership journal is to expand your self-awareness. Self-awareness of your strengths,  what challenges you, what gives you energy and what can derail you is a key driver of emotional intelligence and success in leadership.

Another key benefit of keeping a leadership journal is managing stress. Workplace stress has a significant impact on our overall well-being. Journaling about stressful events can help you process them, release negative emotions, and ultimately enable learning. 

Effective leaders are able to see what’s happening with a clearer perspective. They are thus able to respond with greater agility to change. They lead effectively because they see effectively. Journaling is a useful tool for providing perspective. 

Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action. – Peter Drucker


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