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Why Good Leaders Use a Journal

By Randy Hall

Last week I wrote a blog post about leadership being a set of skills that you can develop, not a set of traits that you were born with.  One of the tools that I mentioned really good leaders often use is journaling.  And you don’t have to have a team, or a business, or a management role to use journaling to lead yourself more effectively. Anyone can improve their effectiveness, their emotional intelligence, their insight, and their level of happiness by using a journal in an organized way.

Here are a few of the benefits that leaders can receive from the journaling process.

Thought processing

Journaling is sometimes thought of as more of a feel good kind of self-therapy, and while there are real benefits for people who want to improve their mental state, journaling is also simply a way to process our thinking in an organized fashion.  It can help us make better decisions, organize our work and effort, and get the most out of the actions we take after working through our thoughts in detail.


Most leaders I know are bombarded with all of the competing priorities coming at them every single day.  All of that noise competes for our attention and energy, and it can be exhausting.  Journaling helps us get some focus and clarity on the best way forward, and the most important work for us to do.

Introspection and improvement

We are the only animal on the planet that can examine our own thinking. Yet most of us hardly ever use this amazing ability to help us analyze where we can get better and how to make those improvements in our thinking.  Sometimes I like to imagine a world where everyone worked to improve the quality of their thinking on a regular basis.  What if we all explored the thoughts that are getting in the way of our success and the thoughts we wanted to have so that we could become more successful?   We can’t change the world for everyone, but we can do the work to change ours, and it starts with examining those thoughts.

Insight and ideas

Journaling can help us use streams of conscious thinking to uncover and explore new ideas, consider new possibilities, and chart new courses of action.  Most of the ideas we have get lost and we never know which ones might have changed the future for us, or our team, or our business.  Journaling can help us capture and think about those insights and ideas more thoroughly and explore ways to make them a reality.

Here are a few ways that leaders can use a journal to improve the outcomes they are after and become more effective at leading a team.

Decide on your goals

Some people use journaling for stress relief, some use it more for decision making, or goal setting, or gratitude.  Research tells us that there are real mental and physical health benefits to all of these.  Capture some thoughts about why you want to consider journaling, and that will help you focus your efforts so that you can get the most benefit from the exercise and choose a format that helps you the most.

Write consistently

The biggest challenge with journaling is becoming consistent with it.  Most research indicates, as with most beneficial habits, that doing it regularly can be more effective at getting the results you want.  The key here is that it doesn’t have to take a lot of time to be consistent.  If you start with a few sentences a day, that’s better than writing a page on Monday and then not touching your journal for the rest of the week.

Use a format

One thing people struggle with is deciding what to write about, especially as they are getting started.  Use questions that give you a specific starting point and then just let the writing flow as you get deeper into your thinking.  You can use questions like:

  • What went well today (or yesterday)?
  • What decisions do I have coming up that I want to think more deeply about? 
  • What are my most important goals for today? 
  • What am I stressed or worried about? 
  • What does great look like for me this week? 
  • Who needs my leadership today and how will I support them?

Questions like these will get you started, and often the challenge becomes managing your time once you get into your thoughts.

Becoming a better leader is about the tools you use, the habits you develop, and the choices you make.  Journaling might just be a tool that you can use to change your capability and effectiveness for your team, your business, and your future.

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