Your Reflected Best Self

September 30, 2010

By Laura Morgan Roberts

The Reflected Best Self Exercise (RBSE) is an innovative leadership and career development tool, used by thousands of emerging and established leaders in premier executive education programs, corporate talent management initiatives, required and elective Masters-level and undergraduate degree programs, professional development seminars, adolescent internship programs, and family and friendship circles. The RBSE is a multi-step process that helps people to discover and activate their best selves. This process involves reflecting upon moments in one’s life when a person was at his or her best, examining these best-self episodes closely for cross-cutting themes and variations, and composing a best-self portrait (written or multimedia) that captures the essence of the qualities and behaviors a person exhibits when at his or her best. The most valuable aspect of the exercise is gathering “contribution stories” from colleagues, clients, friends, and family members, which allows understanding of an individual’s best self as reflected by those who know him or her best. Some students are hesitant to seek RBSE feedback, because they are concerned that other people may perceive them as arrogant. Yet, the exercise proves to be a valuable learning experience for learners of all ages. The majority of my students receive feedback from 60%-70% of the requested providers, and many of the providers express their appreciation for the opportunity to share how someone has made an important contribution. Less than 5% of the feedback providers express concerns about the exclusively positive focus of the exercise, or submit feedback that describes the student’s weaknesses instead of their contributions.

The debrief session is a critical aspect of the RBSE. During the debrief session, participants discuss their key learnings, core assumptions, and action plans. The action planning phase deepens the impact of the RBSE by advancing students’ developmental agenda for generating extraordinary outcomes in organizational contexts. Using the best self as a platform for growth and development is powerful, because the action plans aim to actualize potential for making extraordinary contributions. The underlying assumption is that the knowledge of one’s best self is grounded in the reality of one’s prior contributions, not on an idealized, unattainable image of who a person hopes to become.

Facilitators, faculty or coaches might ask students to reflect upon four key questions to develop their action plans:

  1. What actions can you take to be at your best more often? Students can generate a list of their best-self enablers (personal and situational factors that activate their best self) and blockers (personal and situational factors that inhibit their best self).
  2. What actions might you take to make your best self even better? This question refers to longer-term efforts toward developing in one’s areas of strength, and becoming even more skillful in the application of these strengths.
  3. What actions can you take to promote continuous, life-long learning about your best self? What reflective and feedback-seeking practices will you adopt to refine your best-self portrait as it evolves over time?
  4. How can you bring out the best in others? Leadership development programs can explore how to foster environments in which employees can engage their best selves more often, and make their best selves even better.

Web Page and Related Resources

Reflected Best Self Exercise

Job Crafting Exercise

Personal/Professional Alignment Questionnaire