Want To Boost Your Leadership? Try Journaling

burnout gratitude journaling leadership mindfulness resilience self-care Jun 09, 2022

Want to improve your self-awareness, insight, decision-making, performance, and well-being? Journaling just may be the thing to create your edge.

Strong evidence supports journaling as an effective way to enhance well-being, health, and achievement. At every stage in our lives, we can benefit from expressive writing. Studies show improved physical health for those suffering with serious illnesses. Students who journal make better grades and gain confidence in their abilities to tackle life’s challenges. Leaders who journal become more effective, improve relationships with followers, and gain greater satisfaction and energy from their work. The research is compelling that journaling is a beneficial practice worth trying.

Best of all, it is simple, easy, and accessible to anyone willing to invest a few minutes. Journaling can be both a nurturing, self-care ritual and an avenue for significant, personal and professional growth. It helps us connect with ourselves, enhance our life satisfaction, boost our resilience, and improve our performance. Through journaling we can assess opportunities, define goals, and craft plans for the future.

 The best leaders are self-aware, emotionally intelligent, and able to build meaningful relationships. Journaling is an oasis of self-discovery and connection. Expressive writing offers a safe way to gain self-knowledge and to make sense of challenging experiences. We begin to see our patterns of responding to situations and others. Through self-reflection, we gain valuable knowledge, learn from our successes and failures, define our values, and discover purpose and meaning in our work. These insights help us connect positively with ourselves and to foster strong leader-follower relationships. In fact, journaling is shown to improve self-awareness and empathy. Which is recognized as an important leadership skill that helps prevent burnout. Empathy allows leaders to relate and work more effectively with followers and peers alike. Journaling also improves cognition and our ability to understand complex situations and make better decisions (Johnson, 2020). These advanced thinking skills boost leader effectiveness.

The simple act of writing down our thoughts, feelings, concerns, insights, hopes, and goals has the power to transform our leadership. Infinite wisdom lies in the space between pen and paper, just waiting to be discovered. Journaling releases hidden insights and is shown to enhance physical, social, and psychological health (Baikie & Wilhelm, 2005; Dimitroff et al., 2017; Khramtsova & Glascock, 2010). Gratitude journaling, or making note of the things we appreciate, has been shown to improve overall well-being, happiness, positive emotions, and kindness to others (Kashdan & Ciarrochi, 2013). Expressing appreciation at work makes us better leaders.

Why Should Leaders Journal?

For leaders, journaling is touted as a valuable practice that gains importance with career advancement (Ciampa, 2017). It offers a structured way to learn from challenging experiences. This is a significant and meaningful source of executive development because 70% of job knowledge is gained through challenging assignments and on the job experiences (Noe, 2020).

Demonstrated Benefits of Journaling for Leaders

  • Enhanced self-awareness, empathy, cultural competency, and perspective taking are important leadership skills that improve with journaling (Ciampa, 2017; Johnson, 2020).
  • A reflective practice is associated with improved leader-follower relationships and leader effectiveness (Alder, 2016; DeRue et. al., 20112; Johnson, 2020; Thomas, 2008).
  • Journaling helps leaders see and comprehend unfolding dynamics before others do and in turn act quickly to advance initiatives and solve problems (Alder, 2016).
  • Leaders who take time to reflect have a greater sense of moral consciousness, are more likely to practice ethical decision making, and lead with their morals and values (Branson, 2007; Thiel et al., 2012).
  • Leaders who practice self-reflective journaling focused on positive aspects of their leadership, experience a boost in energy, engagement, and workplace influence (Lanaj, et al., 2019).

Getting Started

Like any endeavor, journaling will be most successful if you begin with an intention and clear understanding of the commitment you will make. Consider what you hope to gain from the routine. Envision how it will help you. What types of insights are you seeking? What kind of self-discovery is most important to you? How can reflective journaling transform your leadership?

Next, consider how many days each week you will journal and how much time you will dedicate. Amazing things can happen in as little as 5 to 10 minutes several days per week. Set a realistic goal for the number of days each week you will journal and how much time you will dedicate. Make an appointment with yourself. Put it on your calendar. Honor this time like you would a scheduled meeting with a colleague or client. You will be more successful if there is consistency in your practice. It is also a great idea to pair a new habit that you are establishing with one that is stable. For example, if you drink coffee in the morning, maybe add journaling to your morning routine.

Enter into your journaling sessions with a growth mindset. Journaling is a developmental time for you. It is all about you and it is for you. The phrase “dance like nobody is watching” comes to mind. Let your writing fill the page knowing that no one, but you, will ever read it. Allow your journal to be a safe place for vulnerability and brutal honesty. The very best insights emerge when we are open and allow our thoughts and emotions to flow. Journal with the understanding that is for you and only you. There is no one to please, no impression to make, and no judgments of you.

Think of how you can make journaling a welcome ritual and perhaps even an anticipated retreat from your daily responsibilities.

Finally, choose your journaling tools with care. Anything works, but it might be inspiring and pleasurable to write with a pen that you love and a journal that feels special. If you prefer to use electronic devices such as a tablet, lap top, or even you phone… that works too.

Three Simple Journaling Techniques


Lists are simple and easy. They can stand alone or serve as a launching pad for subsequent journaling sessions. Lists are a great place to start if you are new to journaling. Making a list isn’t intimidating. It is familiar. We all have several lists in our lives, such as grocery lists and to-do lists.

Lists are incredibly useful when we are:

  • Organizing or clarifying thoughts
  • Sorting out connected concepts or issues
  • Looking for patterns
  • Brainstorming options
  • Prioritizing
  • Getting thoughts out quickly
  • Focusing our thoughts
  • Starting big with the goal of narrowing
  • Taking inventory
  • Getting started on a deep topic

Some Example Prompts for Each Situation:


Example Prompt

Organizing or clarifying thoughts

List the most complicated parts of this problem.

Sorting out connected concepts or issues

List the riskiest and most certain parts of this project.

Looking for patterns

Make a list of your favorite foods.

Brainstorming options

Make a list of all the actions you could take.


Make an ordered list of what is important to you.

Getting thoughts out quickly

Take 5 minutes to make a quick list of your concerns.

Focusing our thoughts

Make a list of what is in your control in this situation.

Starting big with the goal of narrowing

Make a list of 100 things that frustrate you.

Taking inventory

Make a list of special people in your life.

Getting started on a deep topic

Make a list of your greatest hopes.

Gratitude Journaling

Taking stock in the things we are grateful for is a proven way to boost our positivity, social connections, and well-being (Kashdan & Ciarrichi, 2013). It is a popular activity because it offers a quick hit of dopamine and a shot of serotonin which leave us feeling good almost instantly. The beneficial effects of gratitude reach beyond a quick dose of happiness. Gratitude is associated with enhanced motivation and goal achievement both academically and professionally (Burton, n.d.).

When is gratitude journaling helpful? Well, pretty much anytime. The great news is that it can be one of the most time efficient techniques. It is as simple as writing down one thing each day that you appreciate having in your life. It could be a person, an experience, a favor, a happening, a tangible thing, an insight, or a particular moment. You can write out “I am grateful for… because…” or you can simply enter a word or two.

          Some Examples of Gratitude Journal Entries:

  • I am so grateful that I had time to walk this morning because I really enjoyed the sunshine and fresh air.
  • I am grateful for my conversation with John today because hearing him praise my work made me realize that I am valued and appreciated by my team. It makes my job so much more satisfying.
  • Last night’s family dinner
  • Rent money
  • Jane’s thank you note
  • Jazz

Mindful Journaling

Mindful journaling is a powerful technique that enhances self-knowledge and promotes resilience. Mindfulness brings us into the present moment. We become centered, open, and receptive. We notice more. Our self-awareness and understanding improves. We are less reactionary and better able to be with difficult feelings and challenges.

Mindful journaling amplifies our growth and insight. It is especially useful when we are open to personal development and transformation. This can be during steady times in our lives when we are ready to progress or during times of struggle and great challenge when we are searching for solutions and positive changes.

How it works:

This journaling technique begins with a mindfulness exercise. There are several options. You can engage in a brief breath exercise or self-directed meditation. Another option is to listen to a guided meditation. At Resiliency Well we offer mindful journaling courses that pair leadership themed meditations with corresponding journaling prompts to create the most productive mindset for insight and professional growth. You can sample mindful journaling here.

Between Pen and PaperTM

Infinite wisdom lies in the space between the tip of your pen and the surface of your paper. Yet, without your effort, it remains hidden, undiscovered. Journaling can be an extraordinary developmental adventure rich in self-discovery and personal growth. I hope this guide offers a little inspiration for you to pick up a pen and discover what lies in the reflective space between your pen and paper.

In closing I leave you a simple wish. May your paper be welcoming, may your pen glide easily, and may your mind and heart open wide to all the wisdom that lies between pen and paper.


Alder, N.J. (2016, January, 13). Want to be an Outstanding Leader? Keep a Journal. https://hbr.org/2016/01/want-to-be-an-outstanding-leader-keep-a-journal

Burton, L. R. (n.d.). The Neuroscience of Gratitude. What you need to know about the new neural knowledge. https://www.whartonhealthcare.org/the_neuroscience_of_gratitude#:~:text=A%20Shot%20of%20Dopamine %20%E2%80%93%20whether,Dopamine%20makes%20us%20feel%20good    

Baikie, K. A., & Wilhelm, K. (2005). Emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing. Advances in psychiatric treatment11(5), 338-346.

Branson, C. M. (2007). Improving leadership by nurturing moral consciousness through structured self-reflection. Journal of Educational Administration, 45(4), 471-495.

Brower, T., (2021, September, 19). Empathy Is The Most Important Leadership Skill According To Research. https://www.forbes.com/sites/tracybrower/2021/09/19/empathy-is-the-most-important-leadership-skill-according-to-research/?sh=558ccd4d3dc5

DeRue, D. S., Nahrgang, J. D., Hollenbeck, J. R., & Workman, K. (2012). A quasi-experimental study of after-event reviews and leadership development. Journal of Applied Psychology, 97(5), 997-1015.

Dimitroff, L. J., Sliwoski, L., O’Brien, S., & Nichols, L. W. (2017). Change your life through journaling—The benefits of journaling for registered nurses. Journal of Nursing Education and Practice7(2), 90-98.

Johnson, O. E. (2020). Creating space to think: The what, why, and how of deliberate reflection for effective leadership. The Journal of Character & Leadership Development, 20-32.

Kashdan, T. B., & Ciarrochi, J. V. (Eds.). (2013). Mindfulness, acceptance, and positive psychology: The seven foundations of well-being. New Harbinger Publications.

Khramtsova, I., & Glascock, P. (2010). Outcomes of an integrated journaling and mindfulness program on a US university campus. STUDII ŞI CERCETĂRI.

Lanaj, K., Foulk, T. A., & Erez, A. (2019). Energizing leaders via self-reflection: A within-person field experiment. Journal of Applied Psychology104(1), 1.

Moss, J., (2020, September, 28). Preventing Burnout Is About Empathetic Leadership. https://hbr.org/2020/09/preventing-burnout-is-about-empathetic-leadership

Noe, R. A. (2020). Employee Training & Development 8th Edition. McGraw Hill Education

Thomas, R. J. (2008). Crucibles of leadership: How to learn from experience to become a great leader. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press.

Thiel, C. E., Bagdasarov, Z., Harkrider, L., Johnson, J. F., & Mumford, M. D. (2012). Leader ethical decision-making in organizations: Strategies for sensemaking. Journal of Business Ethics, 107(1), 49-64.

Turkle, S., (2022, February,17). Empathy Rules. https://hbr.org/2022/02/empathy-rules#:~:text=Empathy%20keeps%20us%20from%20discounting,to%20be%20a%20better%20citizen.

If you have enjoyed this blog and are interested in building your personal resiliency resources, join us for our free First Things First Fridays sessions. The first Friday of every month, we connect for a 15-minute live session designed to offer a little self-care amidst the chaos of life. Follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn, or YouTube to get our live-streaming notices.