Journaling to Develop Your Leadership Skills

By PeopleLeaders | People Leaders Podcast

leadership journaling

One of the qualities that separates leaders from managers is self awareness.

A manager with low levels of self awareness is unlikely to bring out the best in themselves, let alone their team. Whereas a leader with high levels of self awareness, is going to naturally develop the skills needed to bring out the best in the people working with them.

They will be more likely to display the humility, the compassion, and the authenticity that people leadership requires.

Many leaders only develop their self awareness either by chance or by professional development that includes a component of self-awareness training within it.

One of the most underrated ways of developing self awareness is through leadership journaling. And while a first reaction might be to think, “I simply do not have the time for a luxury like journaling,” we encourage you to think again.

The reflective nature of journaling is such that you will become aware of ineffective behaviours and habits that are reducing your effectiveness as a leader. In other words, instead of exhausting yourself through non-supportive behaviours and actions, you’ll enliven yourself through behaviours and actions that are on point.

The bottom line is, deep leadership starts with self leadership, and self leadership starts with self awareness.

Enjoy the episode and remember to sign up for the People Leaders Toolkit on our People Leaders Programs Portal so you can start becoming a more effective leader today.

Episode Highlights:
  • [00:41] What Leadership Journaling Is
  • [01:36] The Benefits of Leadership Journaling
  • [02:39] Committing to a Routine
  • [03:48] Questions to Reflect On
  • [05:04] Learning & Surprise
  • [06:07] Pride and Self Worth
  • [07:15] Future Focus and Team Appreciation
  • [08:21] Admirable Qualities
  • [09:23] Setting Clear Intentions
  • [10:57] Reflecting on Performance
  • [12:08] Reflecting on Missed Opportunities
  • [13:11] Making it Real
  • [14:01] A Positive Flavour
  • [14:54] Quick Wins
  • [15:46] The Progress Principle
  • [16:51] Setting an Intention
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NB: This transcript has been AI generated and may contain some slight errors. Please judge our efforts accordingly 🙂

Jan Terkelsen: [00:00] So welcome to episode 137, Michelle.

Michelle Terkelsen: Oh, oh. It's great to be here. That's fantastic.

Jan Terkelsen: Yeah, I know, and I've just been looking at the stats and you know, the amount of you know, listeners that we have all across the Globe. We're getting some great feedback from people about some of the templates that they're using. We love to get questions from people because that really Informs us about what's important and what we can produce for you.

So if you're listening to this and you have a certain issue, please, you know, come forward. Don't be shy.

[00:41] What Leadership Journaling Is

Jan Terkelsen: Alright, so let's have a look at one of these templates that we've spoken about in a lot of our leadership programs, Michelle. And we don't necessarily, you know, have a leadership journal that we give people. On some occasions we have, haven't we in the past however, leadership journaling is what we are going to talk about in this episode.

Michelle Terkelsen: That's right. So in a nutshell, how would you describe leadership journaling Jan?

Jan Terkelsen: Leadership journaling is a fantastic tool for new leaders and leaders who are interested in developing or broadening their repertoire of behaviour, because this is an opportunity to reflect and also expand your level of awareness.

Michelle Terkelsen: Yeah. And what I particularly like about it, so all it is, it's just grabbing a book. Yeah. And then writing in that book about, and it could be a set of questions, which we're gonna go through.

[01:36] The Benefits of Leadership Journaling

Michelle Terkelsen: I was, I was reflecting on this. And so what are the benefits of the journaling that I've done over the years and that we've shared with others?

And one of the real benefits is that it helps you actually make sense of the experiences that you have had as a leader. Because what happens is that we go through life and we experience these things and we think, "Oh, that was good, that was bad," or, or you just keep moving through it.

What journaling allows you to do is to give you the space to actually process the experience without any judgement from another person or advice or anything like that. So it is such a really great practical tool to grow because that's how we, we grow, don't we? By looking back, learning from the experience and saying, "Ah, I'm gonna take that now," and move forward.

Jan Terkelsen: And that's real leadership is giving yourself that feedback. And with journaling, you can either do it at the beginning of the day or at the end of the day. So I would really encourage you to try both and just see which routine seems to fit with the way in which you operate.

[02:39] Committing to a Routine

Jan Terkelsen: And we'll step through these questions now. And the reason why we have these questions. We usually recommend three to five questions, no more than that because we don't wanna put any more stress on your time. We really wanna create some space for you to reflect on those.

Michelle Terkelsen: That's right. And so to start any sort of habit, you just wanna get into a bit of a routine. And so we, what, what we might say, if you wanna start this habit, just give it a red hot go for a week. Yeah. Every day.

And then ease off and perhaps do it every Friday or every monday or something like that. And again, what we say is schedule it.

If it's not in the diary, it is less likely to be done. So you know, if you are serious about this when you finish the podcast, just book in some time. Journaling. Journaling time.

Jan Terkelsen: And from my experience, Michelle, what I have found is that if I do it 30 days straight, there is a rhythm and a routine, and then I get momentum and then I start to see results. But again, like you said, you have to really just check in with what is going to suit you and your lifestyle. So let's have a look at these questions.

[03:48] Questions to Reflect On

Jan Terkelsen: Yeah. So the first one is, what did I learn today or what did I learn this week?

Now, this is a very reflective question, and the more times you actually ask that of yourself, your reticular activating system will kick in and you will start to notice about the things that you didn't know before that you've learnt that day.

Now, it doesn't necessarily have to be all work related. It could be related to a personality style. The way in which someone creates or forms a question, the way in which someone presents certain information. There is always something that you are, that you can learn in any situation.

Michelle Terkelsen: Yeah, no, I totally agree. Which leads to the next one, because again, it's about learning about myself.

So we started broad, or you could sort of, you know, if you are really trying to modify your behaviour in some way, you've been given feedback about how you interact with others, this might be a good one from you.

And that is, so what did I learn about myself today? You know, it could be, what did I learn about myself when I'm in meetings with people who are more senior than me? What did I learn about myself in terms of how I interact with my team members?

So it could be you, you know what I mean? You can get to a lot of granularity here.

[05:04] Learning & Surprise

Michelle Terkelsen: And then, you know, the flip side is, what did I learn about the other, what did I learn about others today? Yeah. About, you know, how they respond to stressful situations or in certain you know, scenarios.

Jan Terkelsen: And another question that we had in this journal is what surprised me? And again, this could be surprised about myself, like, “Oh, I was really surprised about my reaction.

“I was really surprised about, you know, how my internal feelings came up, but I was able to manage them, which I'm really glad about, but it really surprised me that this still triggers me.

“Or I was really surprised that someone thought that this was more of an issue than what I did.”

And again, it's another way of saying what did I learn? But the way in which words can actually activate certain processes in the brain. So that's why having a broad repertoire of language can actually help you learn in different ways. So find the word that suits you.

[06:07] Pride and Self Worth

Michelle Terkelsen: Yeah. And then another one is which I particularly like, and that is what, what am I proud of? And another way to phrase that could be, what did I do well? You know, what did I you know, demonstrate my competence in?

But, you know, broadly it could be, so what am I proud of today? And that could be in terms of your interactions. It could be an achievement. You know, I got through my task list.

It's just, you know, no judgement here. It's like, what are you proud of? I'm proud that I actually, you know, zipped my lip and didn't, you know, interrupt somebody or cut them off or whatever. But again, reflection, reflection, what am I proud of?

Because we don't give ourselves pats on the back. What we tend to do is actually notice all those things that we didn't do well, and so we wanna start with the good stuff

Jan Terkelsen: And if you, yeah, and if you find this difficult, that's an indicator of a little bit of self worth.

Michelle Terkelsen: Yep.

Jan Terkelsen: And that's why we've put this in because a lot of people that we deal with are very perfectionistic, really achievement focused, but they're really hard on themselves, and that's why it's really important to kind of balance that out.

[07:15] Future Focus and Team Appreciation

Jan Terkelsen: Next question is, what am I looking forward to? Now when we coach people, we always say that in every 24 hour period, there needs to be something that you look forward to.

That great cup of coffee, that conversation with your bestie, that walk with the dog. Whatever it is you need to fill your cup up. It is so important for your psychology and your physiology.

So it's really important to have that in your routine.

Michelle Terkelsen: Yeah. Next one is what do I and what qualities do I appreciate about others in my team? And so this then gets you to think about other people. Within your team. Now, if you are not managing people and have reports, you could be, you know, within the team that I am a member of, is another good way to look at this.

And just know that you don't have to be a leader of people to use these questions to great effect. Yeah. These are just great questions whoever you are. You know you just modify them even, you know, even, but if you are a parent, these are great questions for, for, for you as well.

[08:21] Admirable Qualities

Michelle Terkelsen: And so it is, you know, what are those qualities that I admire about people in my team or my fellow team members?

And we did that in a workshop just recently, and we got everybody to write down the names of their team members. And, you know, one of the first, you know, columns is what are the strengths? And for some people they go, oh yeah. And they could dive in and go, yeah, Bill has this strength, Sally this, and bang, bang, bang. So they really knew their team. Good indicator of a great leader.

There were some leaders, however, going, oh, and it was really a little bit difficult for them. And then when we got onto, so what are their development opportunities? Again, the good leader knew exactly what the development opportunities were and had that conversation with them.

Some of the, and I don't wanna say they're not good leaders, but ones that really had an opportunity to grow didn't have an answer or, or were finding it really difficult. So again, you know, you could use this as a reflective exercise or, you know, and or just focus it on your team.

[09:23] Setting Clear Intentions

Jan Terkelsen: What do I really want to say to whoever it is, or what do I want them to know?

Michelle Terkelsen: Yeah. What do you want them to know?

Jan Terkelsen: That's right. And when you set that clear intention up there is something that then allows you to find the right words to be really balanced, to be in that position where, I wanna say this, but actually I want them to receive it like this.

So because communication is a two-way street, it's not just the fact that I want to extrovert and you know, I wanna get it out. I want them to receive it in a way that they'll actually get it.

And by pre-paving your thinking about that. Like what do I wanna say? And what do I want them to know? Are different questions that will build a more whole kind of question, an approach.

Michelle Terkelsen: Mm-hmm. And yeah, I, so I, I really like this one because you still have a choice. You don't have to say it, it's just, I'm reflecting on like, what do I really want them to know? And then, you know, you'll say it to yourself, well, like, what I really want them to know is X. And then you hear yourself saying, is it that part, is it that big a deal?

Or you could go, actually, it's that big a deal. I probably need to have this conversation.

And that's the beauty of reflective questions. Nobody needs to hear them other than you. You know, you, you are the beneficiary of this process.

[10:57] Reflecting on Performance

Michelle Terkelsen: So another question is, you know, what did I really want to achieve this week, or, you know, this month that, that, that I didn't? Is there something that I, I did wanna achieve, but I didn't get to it?

And again, you know, don't judge yourself. It's just a question that requires an answer, and then you, you know, it's really up to you as to...

You could go to the next step and say, why didn't I achieve that? Or maybe it wasn't that important after all, or it was too difficult, it could lead to a few other insights for you, by answering or asking and answering that question.

Jan Terkelsen: A feedback question. So this is about interacting with my team. What did I do well and what could I have done better?

And the more specific you can be with that, the better you are going to be with your behaviours, your language, and ultimately your results. Now, some of these reflective questions you can then share with your team after you've actually done this process and get feedback as well.

But that's another podcast that we'll talk about feedback and interacting with your team.

[12:08] Reflecting on Missed Opportunities

Michelle Terkelsen: Yeah, several podcasts. And then if I could, another question, if I could revisit a recent event, a recent event, what would I do differently? Or, you know, would I do something differently?

And so, you know, a recent event could be a meeting, it could be a one-on-one conversation. It could be an interaction in a lift. It could have been anything.

And, I remember having this sort of asking myself this question years ago when I was a young up-and-coming manager and, you know, I always found it difficult, you know, to strike up that conversation with a more senior person when we're in the lift.

And you know, I just, I don't know, it was something about authority and the way we were brought up or something around that. And so, asking myself that question led to the answer is, actually, I wish I had said X, Y, and Z, which led me next time to go, okay, now's your chance Michelle. And then I realised, oh God, that was easy. But yeah, you gotta ask yourself these questions.

[13:11] Making it Real

Jan Terkelsen: And when we do ask these questions, there are some people who actually beat themselves up about that, and they ruminate and they go over and over again. They keep indulging in that line.

Whereas what we are suggesting to do is actually, this is a framework that you can do that will allow you to process that incident, especially if it was quite emotional, to a point that you are satisfied.

But don't indulge it. When it starts to feel yucky and all that, you've overindulged.

Michelle Terkelsen: And that's it, Jan. It's like when you ruminate, it's in your mind, and so you can go anywhere and then you forget and then you remember and you go down paths.

Putting it on paper makes it real. You've got it out of here onto there. Done. It's done now. There's no more ruminating required.

[14:01] A Positive Flavour

Jan Terkelsen: What went well for me today? Or what went well for me this week?

And this could be something like, oh, you know, I actually got that parking space, or I received that compliment, or I just felt in the flow. My energy was up all day. Just notice what is working for you because remember what you focus on, that is what your mind and your brain will deliver for you.

So we wanna make sure that we have a bit of real realism and also optimism in the way in which we approach life and work.

Michelle Terkelsen: That's right. And look anecdotally from our experience, some of the most effective managers are glass-half-full thinkers. You know, they are optimistic about you know, their team and what's possible, without a doubt. And, and it's these sort of questions with that positive flavour that can get you into that attitude and that flow.

[14:54] Quick Wins

Michelle Terkelsen: And then the, the, the next one is, what are some quick wins that me or my team were able to achieve this week or this month?

Some quick wins, or it just could be some wins. What are some wins? And it could be accomplishments or achievements or successes, anything like that.

And, and again, if you note them down, I love this question because it, it almost creates a history of achievements for you that you can reflect on over time and then, you know, put them into a single document or onto a poster or onto a single page just for you.

Wow, look at all these things that we achieved. But in the flow of, you know, work life and it gets busy if you don't ask yourself or, or the team these questions on a weekly basis, they're lost.

[15:46] The Progress Principle

Michelle Terkelsen: You know what I mean? You think, oh, they're not that significant, but you know, all these 1, 2, 5 percenters make a huge difference to your success as a team.

Jan Terkelsen: And there is science behind this. In the progress principle, when people can actually see progress and achievements, they're more motivated, engaged, and likely to continue with that behaviour.

And so a quick win or an achievement could be that everyone on the team was on Teams for the team meeting, everyone had their video on, every single person contributed in some way. I didn't have to run the meeting. There was someone else who did it.

You know, there are, there are lots of opportunities that you can create and like you said, Michelle, little wins are still wins and achievements. And when you can feed that back to the team over a couple of weeks of what we were able to achieve and what went well, then it actually signifies to them that you are noticing that you are acknowledging and that it's important.

We hope that you are encouraged to do something like this. Pick three questions, perhaps, either at the beginning of the day or the end of the day.

[16:51] Setting an Intention

Jan Terkelsen: So if you were to do it at the beginning of the day, and this is what I am tending to do now, Michelle, is I actually set an intention for the day.

So each day I have an intention, and my intention today was about taking full responsibility in how I think, how I speak, and how I choose to feel. So total responsibility for me today, right? So there's no finger pointing.

And when, and so I set an intention and then I can actually journal, what do I wanna accomplish and things like that. And there might be a reflective question about what happened yesterday.

So that's one way that you can do it. Or you can actually top and tail. You can do something in the morning, like setting an intention and then reflect on that intention at the end of the day when you answer those three questions.

Michelle Terkelsen: Great. Great. Love it. Okay, well let's, I'd love to get some, we'd love to get some feedback from people about their journaling experience and any questions, issues? Yeah. Write in, cuz we always answer them, don't we,

Jan Terkelsen: And if you've got a great question, share it because you know, if you share it with us, we will definitely handball it and share it for everyone else. Alright, over and out.

Michelle Terkelsen: Bye.

Jan Terkelsen: If you'd like access to the Leadership Journaling template we were discussing on this episode, you can now get that free on the People Leaders Toolkit App. Just search for and download the People Leaders Toolkit from the Apple or Google App stores and you'll get access to this, and other free tools in the toolkit.