Learning Journals for Leadership Development

I’ve had a couple recent requests from readers for information on learning journals:

“I’ve been intrigued by the idea of using journaling & reflective writing, but can’t find any resources for how to get that off the ground. I’m worried about pitching it to people who may feel like it’s simply a teenage “dear diary” and am wondering how to provide some structure and support for this kind of process without demanding people turn in their journals for review. Any help?”

“Would you be able to provide me and your readers with the ins and outs of journaling and how to use it as a learning tool? I am very interested in this piece, but not quite sure what goes into it. Any guidance would be greatly appreciated!”

You may have kept a diary as a kid, or were forced to write them as a part of your summer camp experience. Then, perhaps you never used them again.

I guess you could say blogging is a modern electronic form of a journal. That’s one of the benefits I get from blogging – writing about leadership development sure has helped my development.

So why and how would you use a journal for leadership development?

First of all, the physical act of writing something down promotes learning. It probably has something to do with internalization and ownership (“I wrote it down so it must be true”) – or maybe there’s some weird physical neurological thing going on.

Journaling also helps promote reflection, and reflection is a critical component required in order to learn from experience. And of course, learning from experience is where most of our development as leaders comes from.

This is one of those practices where I just can’t point to a mountain of research – I just know it works.  Besides, no one has ever resisted the idea or questioned it.

Oh, and there’s one more very practical reason (now we’re talking) for using journals for leadership development. There sure are a lot cheaper and easier to produce than thick 3 inch training binders (which end up in trash cans or gathering dusts on shelves). You can buy a very nice one at any office supply store for under $20.00.

Here are 4 ways learning journals can be used for leadership development:

1. Part of a formal training program.
Either send journals out with pre-work material or hand out the first day of the program. Encourage participants to use them to record questions, notes, insights, and action plans.

Of all the leadership and management programs I’ve been to, the one piece of collateral I most often refer to is the learning journal from an executive education program I attended at Darden.

2. Part of a coaching engagement.
Give one to your coachee as a gift at the beginning of a coaching engagement. Encourage them to write down their goals, actions plans, commitments, what they are learning about themselves, and reflections on assignments.

3. Part of a development assignment.
Stretch assignments and job changes are often used for leadership development. However, what’s often missing is taking the time to reflect and debrief with a manager, coach, or mentor. See CCL’s Questions That Facilitate Learning From a Development Assignment.

4. When shadowing.
Shadowing is when you find someone who’s really good at something and follow them around to learn how they do it. It’s a great way to begin to onboard new managers, or for any manager to get better at something. Journals are used to take notes, jot down questions for follow-up, and for self-reflection.

A journal is meant to be a place to record personal reflections, learnings, questions, and notes. It’s the property of the learner, and should never be expected to be submitted for review or assessment.

It’s so simple it doesn’t need structure or instructions – at least not for mature adults. It would kind of take the fun out of it.
How about you? How have you used journals for learning and personal growth?