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Why reflection is critical for success

Schedule time in your busy schedule with your colleagues, staff, and even family members to reflect on where you’ve been and where you’re going

Reflection may not be a word much used in corrections circles. The pressures of performing one’s task, frequently within the context of severe time and budgetary constraints, make it seem that reflection is a luxury, an add-on that is ancillary to the job rather than an integral part of it.

But reflection is necessary, regardless of your job. It helps you make adjustments to the road you’re on, to straighten your path as you aim for the goals you’ve set for yourself. It helps deepen your connection to the work you’re doing. It helps maintain balance.

As the writer Aldous Huxley noted, “experience is not so much what happens to us as what we make of what happens to us.” There must be conscious and intentional consideration – reflection – of one’s experience: What really happened? Were personal assumptions faulty? How can our execution be improved? Where did we fall short of our goals?

I was surprised to read that the first thing the rock group U2 does after finishing a concert is have a meeting. The meeting – you can call it a debrief, a review, or even a reflection – goes over the strong points of the show they just played and identifies areas where improvement might be needed.

Likewise, pilots of the Navy’s air team, Blue Angels, reflect on their air show performances as soon as possible after the show. Their rule is that rank doesn’t matter around the debrief table. The goal is a conscious reflection on the good, the bad, and the ugly.

This all comes to mind because we at the Correctional Management Institute of Texas (CMIT) just completed another session of our Wardens Peer Interaction Program. The biannual program brings together wardens from around the country in a small group to do one thing: reflect.

This invaluable time away from the demands of a hectic prison or jail facility provides one of the few times in their careers they can meet other wardens in a relaxed environment, freely exchange ideas, have meals together, and spend time.

The wardens present to each other on topics of importance in their facilities. They raise challenges and report on best practices. There are no instructors, only facilitators to assist in the process of reflection. The program includes blocks of time for roundtable discussion, i.e., more reflection.

Throughout the week, the most frequently heard response from participants is: “I’m so glad to know I’m not alone. I thought I was doing everything wrong.” That simple realization puts many wardens at ease and opens them to a week of reflecting about all aspects of their operations.

By the end of the week, the refrain is, “This is the best program I’ve ever attended.” That compliment has little to do with us. We simply provided the space and time for them to reflect on their careers, their operations, their staff, and the countless other factors in running a facility.

Schedule time in your busy schedule with your colleagues, your staff, and even family members to reflect on where you’ve been and where you’re going.

Dr. Joe Serio is a popular and sought-after criminal justice speaker and trainer. He is currently delivering a series of classes on time management, emotional intelligence, leadership, customer service, and other topics at the Harris County (Houston) Sheriff’s Office Training Academy. Dr. Serio is a featured speaker at SHIELD, Sheriff Institute for Ethical Leadership Development, at the Travis County (Austin) Sheriff’s Office Training Academy. He also speaks at adult and juvenile probation departments as well as police departments.
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