PKAL Volume IV: What Works, What Matters, What Lasts

Leaders and leadership

Leaders have a capacity for self-reflection, for reality-testing. The importance of reflection is one of the threads through the Words of Wisdom for STEM Leaders presented in this posting from the PKAL archives. These words of wisdom, from a wide range of reflective leaders, offer perspectives on the personal dimension of leadership— both reflection and action.

Thinking about how leaders can learn to manage themselves and stay sane in the process, Ronald Heifetz emphasizes the importance of reflection, using the metaphor of learning to dance:

    Rather than maintain perspective on the events that surround and involve us, we often get swept up by them. Consider the experience of dancing on a dance floor in contrast with standing on a balcony and watching other people dance. Engaged in the dance, it is nearly impossible to get a sense of the patterns made by everyone on the floor. To discern the larger patterns on the dance floor— to see who is dancing with whom, in what groups, in what location, and who is sitting out which kind of dance— we have to stop moving and get to the balcony.

At the beginning of a new academic year, we hope STEM leaders take some time to move to the balcony to reflect on the patterns in their scholarly life, recognizing (again from Heifetz) that listening to one’s self requires a place where one can hear oneself think.

These words of wisdom can catalyze one’s reflections and also suggest what might be done upon returning to the dance floor. The iterative process of reflection and action is built into PKAL’s DNA; thus the PKAL template for planning is included with the words of wisdom. This template works at the level of planning one’s personal future, of planning the future of the department or program, as well as at the institutional level.