By Khatera Sahibzada Ph.D. 

One of the most admirable and arguably underrated qualities of leadership is the capacity for reflection. Confucius called it the most noble way to learn wisdom.

But when we talk about what makes someone a successful leader, we typically describe attributes like the ability to innovate, make strategic decisions or manage uncertainty. We rarely mention reflection among the core traits of a great leader.

Yet their capacity to reflect on decisions, behaviors and learning certainly helped guide them toward success. Media mogul Arianna Huffington, for example, recommends reflection as a way to connect with one’s own wisdom and creativity. Billionaire investor Ray Dalio credits reflecting on painful experiences with helping him build Bridgewater, the world’s largest hedge fund.

Reflection is different than critical thinking, which is more focused on problem solving and an end goal. Reflective thinking helps us understand our underlying beliefs and assumptions and how they influence our decisions, guide us in problem-solving and drive behavior.

In my consulting work, I help organizations select top talent and rising stars who can achieve superior levels of performance. Companies tell me they want leaders who can make the “right” decisions quickly and decisively, often while balancing competing interests.

Given the fast-paced nature of the world we inhabit, it may seem counterintuitive for them and others to include the ability to reflect as among the most important traits that will determine a leader’s success. Yet there is growing evidence showing precisely that.