Editor’s Note:   John is taking a break from his blog and hosting the podcast for the month of August.  We are re-printing some of his more popular posts from his archive of more than 1,000 articles.  This first appeared in December 2008.  Then the blog was called HealthCare Voice.  

Journaling is a trendy sort of thing. I know people who have been doing it, religiously, for years. Others started but did not stay with it. It is like a routine of physical exercise, I guess.  I know others who have started after taking a journaling class.  Interesting. I did not know there was a class for something like this – teaching you to write thoughts and ideas in a book.

iStock_000019271881XSmallMy interest in journaling did not come from a lofty notion that I had something important to say, recall or reflect upon.  No, it was much more superficial.  It was a picture in a magazine of a great looking leather notebook and a beautiful pen (in what you write, and with what you write, is very important to some journalists).  A rugged looking model posing as one of the world’s great adventurers/writers was making notes while sipping what looked to be a glass of expensive single malt scotch.  That was the purpose of the magazine advertisement, not the merits of journaling.  That leather journal and the pen made an impression.  Then during one of my frequent business trips – not to Africa or some exotic Far East destination, but Wichita — I saw someone else making notes in an interesting notebook.  He, too, was using an interesting looking pen.  Then I heard a speaker at a leadership conference talk about the value of reflective journaling.  I learned that some of the most celebrated leaders in the nation — in business and the military — journal on a regular basis.

I began to think about the idea from time-to-time.  As a former crime writer and investigative reporter for a major Texas newspaper, I missed the “art” of writing although there are those who would argue that this type of writing – a report on some bloody killing or bizarre auto accident – is really 250 words in short declarative sentences organized in three or so paragraphs masquerading as tomorrow’s history.  

About seven or eight years ago, I began to make notes in the classic spiral notebook on how I could improve my business and my life, as well as notes on tasks for the next day – something that I do more and more frequently as my hair continues its march to total grayness.  Occasionally I wrote something that was good but most of the time I rarely went back and reread the previous entry’s musings, except to look at my notes for the Outlook calendar.  

Then I met Rand Stagen,Senior Partner at Stagen, a Dallas-based management consultancy.  Mr. Stagen helped me connect the concept of reflective journaling and improving as a leader of an executive search firm.  He believes, and I am now a Stagen devotee on this issue, that there is a correlation between the discipline of reflective journaling and an executive’s ability to master the art of next-level leadership.  To read more about this deeply important leadership concept and download a copy of this white paper, visit his website.

I am no next-level leadership expert as I am clearly about to demonstrate, but borrowing from Mr. Stagen’s excellent work is very helpful when I talk to students in graduate healthcare management programs.  I frequently use one of Rand’s great examples: the head football coach.  Television cameras cut to a close-up of the head coach on the sideline at crucial times during the game, plotting his next move.  Stagen makes an important point – that he may have the final say in calling the next play, but the coach has the worst seat in the house – at field level, which precludes him from gaining any perspective with regard to how his offense is being defensed.  However, he does have a headset and he is talking to a member of his coaching staff who is located in the press box high above the playing field, Stagen writes.  That coach may not be as smart or as experienced as the head coach, but he does have a different perspective and he (rarely, if ever, a she) can see opportunities the head coach cannot see.  That, briefly, made the case for why every leader should keep a journal.

The discipline of reflective journaling allows a leader to move high above the playing field to revisit key decisions or events, and think about how a decision was made and executed.  To gain a sense of perspective of what was overlooked or misjudged when the actual decision was made.  And to learn from the experience.

My journal entries today cover my Firm’s efforts to reach next-level recruiting, on the critical decisions we make in our searches as well as ideas for future blogs.  As the birthdays fly by, and I am required to make more notes on day-to-day operations, I keep a separate log to update my Outlook Tasks list and calendar.

Today I have graduated from the spiral notebook. I journal in the classic Moleskine and I have a really good pen.