3 Ways to Use Journaling to Grow Your Leadership Skills | by Delaney Tosh CPCC, PCC

Leader journaling at desk wearing orange shirt

Did you know journaling could be a leadership tool? Whether for yourself or your clients, read on to learn more about how to use journaling to boost leadership skills.

Most of us are juggling a lot of activities and obligations within our work roles and in our lives—committees, deadlines, projects, work teams, work travel, social engagements, social media, and of course, family life. This means we typically forget to give ourselves breathing room—time to process all the noise of our lives and have it make sense, be meaningful and foster growth.

The way we live, with its manufactured busyness and sense of urgency, disconnects us from our inner sage, that inner voice of true and deep knowing.

The result can include more stress, a lack of focus, and difficulty coming to decisions with clarity and confidence. Yet when we give ourselves space to be with our thoughts in a structured manner, we harness a powerful and evidence-based tool to help revitalize our resilience and author our futures.

Journaling has health benefits

If your job is classified as high-stress, journaling can be an integral part of your resilience-building toolkit to mitigate the health impacts stress can have.

I was introduced to the health benefits of journaling years ago by colleague Lynda Monk, MSW, RSW, CPCC, director of the International Association for Journal Writing, who coaches individuals and organizations in writing for wellness and therapeutic journaling.

There is well over 35 years of scientific research that proves there are many benefits that can be gained through writing about your thoughts and feelings. Lowered blood pressure, improved immune functioning, reduced stress, greater confidence, more clarity for decision making, healing emotional wounds, improving personal relationships, cultivating personal resilience and making meaning out of life events are among the many proven benefits of expressive writing. Lynda Monk, MSW, RSW, CPCC

Indeed. University of Texas at Austin psychologist and researcher James Pennebaker, PhD, who researches trauma, language use and physical health, says, "By writing, you put some structure and organization to anxious feelings. It helps you to get past them."

Joshua Smyth, PhD, of Syracuse University, asserts that venting emotions alone—whether through writing or talking—is not enough to relieve stress, and thereby improve health. To tap writing's healing power, people must use it to better understand and learn from their emotions, he says.

The research by Pennebaker and Smyth, among others, has found that those who journal develop more adaptive, integrated schemas about self, others and the world, resulting in better decision making, reduced anxiety and increased confidence—all useful capacities for leaders to develop. However, how you approach journaling determines how effective it can be in achieving positive affect and enhanced cognition.

So, how can journaling help leaders?

Journaling is an evidence-based tool leaders can use to develop their growth mindset, improve focus, enhance confidence and build resilience.

Journaling gives you opportunities to:

  • Allow your inner sage voice to emerge
  • Connect with your heart and inner truth
  • Find stillness for self-reflection
  • Develop self-awareness: how your thoughts impact your actions
  • Think things through and bring focus or clarity to a situation or feeling
  • Explore and transform your limiting beliefs
  • Set down a burden
  • Find your way around a mental or emotional roadblock

Carol Dweck, PhD, is the psychology professor at Stanford University who introduced us to the concept of a growth mindset. Her research discovered the impact of having a "growth" versus "fixed" mindset. She summarizes her findings as follows:

Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset. They tend to achieve more than those with a fixed mindset (those who believe their talents are innate gifts). This is because they worry less about looking smart and they put more energy into learning. Carol Dweck, PhD

Here are 3 ways to use journaling to grow your leadership skills

1) Be a more focused and intentional leader

Keep a daily journal about your goals and how you will engage your time and energy intentionally towards your priorities, values and relationships.

Writing these thoughts down helps you align with them and course correct as needed as you go through your day. And this practice enables leaders to set the tone for the day and bring focus to intentions in a more powerful way than simply creating a to-do list.

You might consider these journaling prompts to set the tone of the day:

  • Today I am grateful for…
  • What am I celebrating in myself?
  • Which of my values will I draw on today? In what ways?
  • What will make today meaningful is…
  • How will I build relationships today? How will I show up to create connection and build trust?
  • Being fully engaged today looks like…
  • What takes priority today? What, if I bring my focus to it today, will have the biggest positive impact (on my day, on my goals, on the business/organization…)?
  • What will I do today to enhance my learning and growth?

It's also good practice to also close your day using journaling to celebrate and evaluate your intentions. You could simply review your morning journaling, or you could use these three prompts:

  • What was awesome about today?
  • What would I change about today?
  • What have I learned, and how will I use this going forward?

2) Boost your confidence

Confidence is something you can develop; it's not a fixed, innate character trait.

Fostering confidence does, however, require you to program your thinking to be inner sage oriented and positive.

The journaling prompts below tap into ways of thinking that, research has shown, support confidence. Use these prompts generally, or in specific situations where you want to feel an enhanced sense of confidence.

You might consider these journaling prompts to enhance your confidence:

Journal on all these prompts to support you with a situation or challenge, or choose a different one or two each day, as part of daily practice.

  • What vision do I hold for this new role/project/challenge (or for myself as a leader)?
  • Who am I when I give myself full permission?
  • What inner critic messages am I listening to and letting hold myself small?
  • What does my inner sage know to be true?
  • What would be different if I chose to listen to/believe/honour my inner sage?
  • If I were to let go of X belief, what might be possible?
  • What is a new perspective I can explore instead?
  • How do my values inform my approach to this situation?
  • Which of my signature strengths will I draw on?
  • What is it to have a growth mindset in this situation (or in general)? (What does this look like in action?)
  • What can I trust about myself?
  • What feels like a risk here?
  • What does success look like in this situation?
  • What do I want to learn? What will forward my growth?

3) Stop ruminating, become more adaptive and resilient and foster a growth mindset

Leadership and Rumination...

Rumination fosters indecision and doesn't support growth or confidence. It can be unhelpful and anxiety inducing and yet, many of us have a habit of ruminating over challenges, conflicts, failures or perceived interpersonal slights.

When leaders ruminate over challenges or failures in their work, short-term impacts include indecision, inaction, avoidance and stress. And long-term impacts could include an erosion of your health and of the trust of your team.

You might consider these journaling prompts to foster a growth mindset:

Here are some journaling prompts that can help you switch from rumination to problem solving and growth.

Using all of the following prompts in sequence can help you create insight and build self-awareness, and also help you avoid unproductive rumination.

  • What is present for me now? What do I notice? What am I feeling?
  • What is going well? What created this? What role did I play?
  • What is challenging right now? What contributed to this? What is my role in that?
  • What needs my attention? Externally? Internally?
  • What is meaningful?
  • What am I grateful for?
  • What strengths can I honour and draw on more? How?
  • What strengths do I notice in others? How could I acknowledge these?
  • What will I let go of?
  • What will I take accountability for?
  • What am I learning? (Scan your writing and draw out the lessons and the opportunities.)
  • What action could I take (to leverage my learning? to better draw on my strengths? to embrace the opportunities for growth?)

Wrap-up

The regular practice of journaling is an evidence-based tool to help leaders stay grounded in the heart of who they are and to be guided by their courageous and integral selves.

The key is to use a structured approach that includes the use of transformative prompts and words to move from ruminating to growth-oriented writing and bring more intentional focus to how they will show up and shape their days.

References:

Free Resource:

Download my journaling for resilience and learning resource to kickstart your journaling as a leadership practice.

Sources:

If you liked this article on journaling for leaders, you may also enjoy:

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Contributing Author:

Delaney Tosh, CPCC, PCC, coaches women who want to radiate with confidence and thrive as leaders. She helps her clients navigate the hurdles unique to women in leadership and also delivers the Resilience at Work® Toolkit and Resilience at Work® Leader Scale, helping leaders and teams create optimal performance through resilience. She is co-creator of the Phoenix-Hearted Woman retreats and webinars, designed to help women build resilience and strengthen their foundation for being heard and making a difference in the world. Connect with Delaney at SquarePeg Leadership or on LinkedIn.

Learn more about Delaney here >>

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