I often mention in my Kellogg leadership classes and public talks that the first principle of becoming a values-based leader is self-reflection. When I am asked why, I respond with a three-part answer:

  1. If I am not self-reflective, is it possible to know myself?
  2. If I do not know myself, is it possible to lead myself?
  3. If I cannot lead myself, is it possible to lead others?

In order for me to be self-reflective, I do a 15-minute mental self-examination at the end of every day. However, the real “engine” of my self-reflection is the three-day silent retreat I participate in during the first week of every December at the Jesuit Retreat House in Lake Elmo, Minnesota. Many of my friends say, “Wait a minute! Harry can’t keep quiet for three minutes — it’s IMPOSSIBLE he can keep silent for three days!!!!” However, it is true!

These really are the three most important days of the year for me. We live in such a crazy, nonstop world that it is easy to “confuse Activity and Productivity.” We are all very active, but how productive are we really? Or are we moving so fast that we have no idea how productive we are? This three-day silent retreat — without phones, laptops, talking, schedules, etc. — gives me the opportunity to focus on questions that are very important to me:

  • What are my values?
  • What is my purpose?
  • What really matters?
  • What am I called to do?
  • How can I become a better person, a better spouse, a better father, a better teacher, a better leader?

I am not capable of answering these questions when I am confusing activity and productivity. However, while I am participating in this retreat, and listening in silence to the words of the Jesuit retreat leader, things become very clear to me. When I am walking around the retreat grounds, I often stop at the carved stone that has the words from the gospel of Matthew: “What good does it a man to gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul.” It truly puts everything into perspective for me.

I realize that one of the biggest benefits of being self-reflective is that it minimizes surprise. People who are not self-reflective are constantly surprised, usually by adverse events, and I wonder why they are surprised. By being self-reflective, I may not know when something will happen, but I am pretty confident that it will happen sometime: I may not get the job or promotion that I desired, or someone I love dearly will pass away. However, self-reflection helps me deal with these life experiences and minimizes the surprise.

Our retreat leader this year was Father John Paul, of Cristo Rey High School in Minneapolis. He is one of nine children, and his parents are from Lebanon and Syria. Prior to coming to Minneapolis, he worked on several Native American reservations in South Dakota. He used icons in several of his talks as effective ways of explaining aspects of the life of Christ.

Here are a few examples of thoughts and questions I took away from the retreat on which to reflect:

  • What should I keep in mind as I approach prayer?
  • How can I become more attentive to God’s presence and action in my life?
  • Where do I find purpose in my life?
  • Lesson learned from Lewis and Clark in “Undaunted Courage”…to keep on going, and not to be ruled by fear
  • We are created in Love, out of Love, for Love, and to Love
  • Who are the heroes in my life? What are the qualities that draw me to them?
  • Is my heart in the right place? Great question: “how’s your heart?”
  • What we give away comes back to us
  • Love manifests itself in deeds beyond words
  • “The main thing is to let the main thing be the main thing”…what is the main thing in my life??

Thanks for reading this blog post! Have a great week!!