How Leaders Benefit From Journaling

  • 5 mins read

Are you reaping the rewards of journaling?

Leaders face an ever-demanding role as the business climate continues to speed up to counter threats. The pressures of superiors, stockholders and customers don’t seem to give you much time to catch your breath. Responses must be quick. Choices must be smart.

Have you experienced this in your attempts to run an organization? Expectations of you never diminish. In her 2016 Harvard Business Review article, Want to Be an Outstanding Leader? Keep a Journal, Nancy Adler puts it succinctly: “Extraordinary leadership requires seeing before others see, understanding before others understand, and acting before others act.”

You strive to do this, but how can you initiate critical thoughts and keep them fresh under such circumstances? Wise leadership requires careful reflection of evolving ideas and feelings that may be forgotten from one day to the next. Mental processing is difficult enough without the distractions of the everyday pace.

The answer that many leaders have found, Adler states, is keeping a personal journal. Initially, this may seem banal. But research and many leader testimonials support the benefits of this personal practice.

Making the Effort

Journaling captures thoughts and ideas to be revisited. Difficult feelings can be worked through and tough concepts can be further examined. Consider journal entries as bookmarks in a volume of important thoughts whose pages are constantly turning.

Not only does journaling prevent your important mental notes from being lost, but it also improves your thinking. Setting aside time to journal quiets your mind so you can think more clearly. This is what research funded by The National Institute of Mental Health concluded. Settled brains are simply more effective at processing and problem solving.

Additionally, research sponsored by the National Institute of Health found that replaying experiences in our minds is a great tool for learning. Journaling essentially provides you a way to relive thoughts or feelings, and reflect on them. Identifying these in your journal is a critical way to learn about yourself and the world around you.

Dan Ciampa, author of Right From the Start: Taking Charge In a New Leadership Role (Harvard Business Review Press, 1999), believes that keeping track throughout your day of what went well and what didn’t is the best way to learn. You can glean from your successes and mistakes. And most importantly you can determine how to adjust and improve. All this requires quiet reflection. Making the effort to journal on these things is well worth it.

Making a Routine

Many leaders attest to the benefits of writing their journal entries by hand. True, electronic entries can be more efficient, but slowing down to manually write helps with processing thoughts. It eases the tension.

Consistency is key. Schedule your journaling time at a set time of the day, and make that your commitment to yourself. If you are journaling once a day, the best times are before your day begins or after your day ends. Ten to fifteen minutes is all you’ll need. It’s much more difficult to squeeze this into the middle of an already busy day.

Another reason to journal on off hours is to avoid being interrupted. Do it in private. Again, the idea is to reflect on significant thoughts. These are things you won’t be sharing with anyone — this is a safe world, for your eyes only.

The best journaling is spontaneous and transparent. There’s no need for proper grammar or spelling. Be honest with yourself. Let the thoughts flow freely. The more candid you are, the more you will help yourself. Don’t use this time to judge or criticize yourself. Make it a positive time to learn and grow.

Making It Meaningful

Journaling is made most productive when asking yourself questions that provoke deeper thoughts as you attempt to answer them. The questions should cover a variety of ground, and they should be asked regularly for maximum benefit. Feelings are certainly a focus, as are observations, concerns, and satisfactions.


Adler suggests leading your reflection time with some positive takeaways:

  • What was I thankful for today?
  • What did I do well today?
  • What did I learn today?

The answers to these help build a positive mindset. They’ll boost your confidence and productivity.

Self Awareness

  • What made me laugh today?
  • What made me upset today?
  • Did I act in an unfortunate way today?
  • Did I feel successful today?
  • Did I disappoint myself today?
  • What inspired me today?

The answers to these can improve your emotional intelligence by assessing your responses to circumstances. This will help you deal with feeling better, and shape your character for maximum effectiveness.

My Leadership

  • How am I leading?
  • What do others think of my leadership?
  • Am I reflecting my personal values?
  • Am I supporting my organization’s values?
  • Were my people better off today because of me?

Answers to these can assess your impact and how it can be improved.

My People

  • Who needs my attention?
  • What might my people be feeling to make them the way they are?
  • What techniques worked with my best people?
  • What techniques didn’t work with those who concern me?
  • Who has been consistently dependable / non-dependable?

Answers to these will shed light on how to manage talent better.

My Goals

  • Did I get closer or farther from my goals today?
  • What can I do differently?
  • What should my priorities be?
  • Are my goals still appropriate?
  • What is the purpose of my work?
  • What fulfills me?

Answers to these can aim you in the best personal direction.

Don’t undervalue journaling. Resist the temptation to drop your diligence or cut your routine. Practice patience. The effects are long-term, but they can be amazing.

Let journaling refresh you and help you find a level of enjoyment you may be missing in your work. If you make it a priority, you will eventually wonder how you ever got by without it.

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