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To Be an Effective Leader, Keep a Leadership Journal



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When you observe many famous people including Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, John Adams, Andy Warhol, Winston Churchill, Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, they kept their journals. Many eminent personalities in all walks of life from entrepreneurs to authors maintained journals. Journaling is one of the habits great leaders possess. We will discuss journalizing, advantages, and how to inculcate this great habit to excel as an achiever and leader.

Journal versus Diary

A Journal is different from a diary. In a journal, you record the events in your life, your feelings, experiences, struggles, and sacrifices at different moments. A diary is a place where you record events while a journal is a place where you analyze and evaluate them. A diary is a focused personal booklet containing a date, time, and place. It is considered to be confidential. A diary is a subset of a journal because the diary is limited to writing about your daily happenings while a journal is a repository of the things that interest and inspire you. 

A diary is more of day-to-day writing while a journal is more topical. A diary contains your personal information while a journal includes your professional and other information. A diary helps you do activities daily while a journal helps you reflect on your thoughts and serves as feedback for your behavioral improvement.  Succinctly, a diary has a log type of format with external events while a journal is feelings and emotions oriented in approach, and diary writing is a focused type of writing while journal writing is a content-oriented type of writing.  

Additionally, journalizing enhances self-awareness. For instance, Warren Buffett has an interesting routine to increase his self-awareness. He writes down the reasons for making an investment decision as well as anticipated results. Once the decision is implemented and in play, several months or years later, he reads his initial thoughts about a decision and compares the actual results with what he expected. Explicitly, Warren Buffett assesses the outcomes of every decision he makes.  Therefore, you must maintain a diary to jot down the lessons you have learned and a journal to analyze and evaluate to take things forward for execution.

Advantages of Journaling

People often find it tough to journal the important activities regularly because they think it is a wastage of time or they may find it uncomfortable to jot down the things.  Some people don’t find time to write and neglect the journal. It is a myth if people think that it is a waste of their precious time.  

When you journal, you manage your time as you stay clearly focused on your tasks. It aligns and guides you in your desired direction. You learn to prioritize and become disciplined to take it forward what is important to you. It enhances your focus and inculcates patience and perseverance. It helps you build your vision, organize effectively, and make better decisions. These are the days of information overload and it is essential to prepare a ‘To-Do’ list to work on only what is essential. Here are some more advantages of journaling:

  • It helps you remove negative thoughts from your mind and replace them with positive thoughts. 
  • It helps you manage your time effectively as you know how to prioritize your tasks and schedule your priorities. Stephen R. Covey rightly remarked, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule but to schedule your priorities.”
  • It helps you capture your ideas and record for execution thus enhancing your execution skills.
  • It helps you disentangle your thoughts and provides you clarity with priority in your mind.  
  • It helps you differentiate between wanted and unwanted activities by differentiating the cheese from the chalk.  
  • It helps you go back and refer to the important information whenever you want. You cannot bring back your past but you can recall your past happenings by reading the past events in your life. 
  • It unlocks your creativity. It relieves you from boredom. You don’t feel lonely because you feel that you are with a reliable, trustworthy, and confidential friend.
  • It helps your thoughts become fodder for other work. 
  • It helps you develop the habit of writing and the words will flow naturally. You can write articles, blogs, and author books. You can improve your writing skills and become a successful professional.
  • It helps you relieve your stress and anxiety because it serves as an outlet for your mind. The University of Texas at Austin psychologist and researcher James Pennebaker contends that regular journaling strengthens immune cells, called T-lymphocytes. Other research indicates that journaling decreases the symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. Pennebaker believes that writing about stressful events helps you come to terms with them, thus reducing the impact of these stressors on your physical health. When people are stressed either they talk to their near and dear ones or write. When they write, the things remain confidential and relieve the tension to ensure sound health.  
  • It fosters resilience. Resilience is the ability to handle stress, volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity effectively. 
  • At times, people forget things. They struggle to recall past events. The journal helps overcome this challenge.
  • If you become a consistent journaler your chances of success are higher as you stay focused clearly on your goals and activities. Brian Tracy rightly said, “Goals in writing are dreams with deadlines.”

Journaling avoids keeping things bottled up because it serves as an outlet for your feelings, emotions, stress, and anxiety. We get around 50,000 thoughts in a day. A few are pleasant while many are unpleasant. We will be able to capture fascinating ideas that pop up in our minds during the day. It helps us analyze our attitude, personality, and behavior. We will be able to assess how we have transformed from time to time.

“I don’t journal to ‘be productive.’ I don’t do it to find great ideas or to put down prose I can later publish. The pages aren’t intended for anyone but me. It’s the most cost-effective therapy I’ve ever found.” – Tim Ferriss

My Experience in Journaling

I have inculcated several habits since childhood. I included more habits after I joined the Indian Air Force when I was 18 years old. Journaling is the habit I cultivated since my childhood, and hitting the gym is the habit I cultivated when I was 15 years old with a dream to join the Indian Air Force. 

I have been maintaining these two habits for many years. By going to the gym, I maintain sound physical health; and by journaling, I maintain sound mental health. Gym releases negative energy and builds positive energy, and journaling eliminates my negative emotions and feelings.

Journaling helped me focus clearly on my goals and follow-up activities. It enhanced my perseverance. I could reflect myself how I have improved my behavior and thoughts over some time. I recall how I felt in those days. Journaling is the best way to bridge the gap between the past and the present and create your future action.

By journaling, you can capture your ideas and jot them down immediately. You will be able to refer them when you need them. For instance, I journal regularly and divide them into different areas. Whenever I have to deliver leadership development training programs, I refer and incorporate them into my training programs. It becomes easy for me to deliver the content effectively and ensure takeaways to my audiences. When I view films, I have the practice journaling the dialogues that are well-punched. I customize them for my training programs.

Ralph Waldo Emerson was surely one of the most prolific notebook-keepers in history. He kept 263 notebooks on a variety of subjects and for a variety of purposes. His notebook collection became so unwieldy, it required a 400-page index to help Emerson find what he was looking for. And then he made indexes for specific subjects too and an index just for references to people in his notebooks-839 in all. He even had indexes for his indexes. 

Cultivate the Habit of Journaling

Here is how you can start cultivating this habit. Initially, you may find it challenging to write but it is easy to journal once you start writing. Ernest Hemingway once remarked, “I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, ‘Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence that you know.’ 

So finally, I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say.”  Set aside a specific time or place to write to enable the words to flow naturally. Don’t think of grammar, structure, or syntax. Jot down whatever pops up into your mind. You may write on your bed before you go to sleep. 

For instance, Mark Twain wrote in bed. You may consider writing your journal in the morning as it is the time you will be more organized and the creative juices flow freely. Bruce Rhoades remarked, “Write in a journal in the morning to be more organized during the day.” Remember, when to journal depends solely on your mood and biological clock.

Write a few words regularly as it helps improve your writing skills apart from serving as a reference and record for the future.  Additionally, it is better to ink than to think as things will vanish when you keep in your mind whereas whatever you journal remains on record forever and assists you to follow-up. Above all, remember that a short pencil is always better than a long memory.

Don’t wait for an auspicious day to start a journal. Today is the time to start journaling to bring out improvement in your behavior, personality, and attitude. 

Journaling Makes You Immortal

Journaling makes you immortal. It makes your mark. It leaves your ideas and insights for others. It leaves a mark for others to follow you even after you departed from this world. People are born and die but they are soon forgotten. When you journal and leave it to others, people remember that you lived and loved this world. When you observe eminent personalities they maintained their personal journals. Hence, adopt the tools and techniques to cultivate the rich habit of journaling regularly to excel as an extraordinary achiever and leader. 

Professor M.S. Rao, Ph.D. is the Father of “Soft Leadership” and the Founder of MSR Leadership Consultants, India. He is an International Leadership Guru with forty years of experience and the author of fifty books including the award-winning ‘See the Light in You’ URL: He is a C-Suite advisor and global keynote speaker. He brings a strategic eye and long-range vision given his multifaceted professional experience including military, teaching, training, research, consultancy, and philosophy. He is passionate about serving and making a difference in the lives of others. He is a regular contributor to Entrepreneur Magazine. He trains a new generation of leaders through leadership education and publications.

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