September Word of the Month: Reflections on Reflect

Many of us in the nonprofit-sphere, including us here at Claxon, tend to enjoy setting aside time for reflection at the end of the year or the start of the new year.

And for good reason. Year end brings a concrete time to close out those financials, wrap up successes (and perhaps failures, too) in a pretty annual report, and figure out what you’ll do differently in the fresh start of the coming year.

We’ve been thinking about or should I say reflecting on the concept of reflection here at Claxon recently. And being the word nerds that we are, we decided to delve into the word itself to find out what we can learn and how we can tie it back to our professional and personal lives.

In this post, we’ll share what we’ve learned: how the definition of reflect has changed over time, how nonprofits are currently using it, and how YOU can use it now to set yourself up for a more impactful future.

The Origin of Reflect

The original definition of reflect, one that’s been around since the 14th century and that we still use today, is the bending of light back toward its source. In fact, the root word -flect simply means “bend”. (Catholics will recognize this from genuflect, which is a fancy way to say bending your knee in respect.)

This meaning of reflect can take many forms: the moon reflecting the sun’s light to Earth, the sky reflecting its color off the ocean, some random light reflecting off of my watch and onto the wall driving my cat crazy, etc.

Reflect is what happens when you look in a mirror. And it’s perhaps this use that caused reflect to move from a mere reflection of light to a reflection in the mind, in the second half of the 17th century.

Reflection definition #2: serious thought or consideration.

Today’s Usage & Nonprofit Usage

In recent times, we are putting even more emphasis on reflection, and my guess is that this is not the light reflection definition. The following graph, supplied by Google, shows the usage of the word “reflect” as a percentage in books from 1800 – 2008.

What caused the sharp bump in the latter half of the 20th century? Could we, as culture, be putting increased focus on reflection of the mind? Perhaps self-reflection in particular?

While I don’t know the answer to that question, I am able to see how nonprofits are using the word “reflect”, specifically on their websites. According to the Wordifier, nonprofits tend to use the word somewhat frequently. It earns a yellow light in the Wordifier’s scale:

While usage of reflect is pretty evenly distributed across the nonprofit sector, religious organizations tend to use it a bit more:

Are religious organizations reflecting more than other nonprofits? Or, are they encouraging their supporters to reflect on their own lives and beliefs? Either way, all nonprofits and their staff members have an opportunity to follow suit and challenge themselves to be more aware – reflecting on their endeavors throughout the year and not just at year end or during infrequent strategic planning sessions.

Resources for Reflection

Many resources exist to help you build the practice of reflection into your life and your work. You can also find specific ways to incorporate reflection into your nonprofit’s routine.

Here at Claxon, we’re all about remarkable messaging. We know that the words we use to talk about our nonprofits make a big difference in the results we see.

That’s why we have a few free tools for you to reflect on your language choices to raise more money and do more good.

Messaging Quiz: Is your messaging helping or hurting your nonprofit’s mission? Take this five-minute quiz and find out.

Organizational Lexicon: This nifty tool will help your nonprofit create your very own lexicon. By doing this you up the odds that you’ll use words that make you consistently stand out from the crowd.

Personal Lexicon: In this day and age, personal brand is important. The words you use are part of that brand. With this in mind, we adapted the Organizational Lexicon, so you could create a lexicon all your own!

What reflection practices do you have for your life, your work, and your communications strategy? Tweet to us @ClaxonMarketing and let us know!

Leadership Revelation

Cat clearly sees its own way. Clearly.

Recently, I had a revelation. It came by happenstance. I was doing research for a piece I’m working on about the Language of Leadership (more on that in a later post).  At some point, I realized I hadn’t defined leadership. It means so many things to so many people, clearly defining was important.

Since the origins of a word give so much darn insight into its true–and/or most useful–meaning, I did some serious online foraging on the etymology of the word “leadership”.

What I learned stunned me.

Etymologically speaking, leadership means: to see one’s own way.

Whhhhhaaaaaat? The origin of the meaning of the word leadership has nothing to do with other people. Leading them, inspiring them, managing them. Nothing. Aside from the leader themself, there’s nary another person to be found in the definition.

Mind blown, right? Least mine was. I’ve been ruminating on this ever since.

The idea of leadership being about other people is, in fact, quite modern. Yet that modern definition  has taken root with great force. Leadership has become synonymous with leading others. It implies that one has followers.

This modern definition begs a question: if you can’t see your own way clearly, how can you lead others effectively?

 

No one cares about your anniversary

Delicious birthday cupcake on table on light backgroundJust like you and your mom are really the only ones who care about your birthday, very few people care when your organization has an anniversary.

The reality is people care about ourselves. It’s human nature. So your birthday really isn’t that big of a deal to most other people. Not that they aren’t happy for you. But it’s not, like, a super huge deal.

Ditto for organizational anniversaries. Should you celebrate milestones? Sure. But make sure you’re clear on what you’re really doing and why. Don’t waste resources celebrating something that other people don’t really care about.

As counter-intuitive as it may seem, don’t make the celebration about your organization. Make it about the change you’ve created during that period of time. Make it about the people you’ve been fortunate enough to serve and work with. Make it about your donors and volunteers and supporters who made it all possible.

Birthdays and anniversaries are good times to pause and reflect on who, and what, is important to you. What’s working? Who can you thank for that? What’s not working? How can you change that?

One handy, yet albeit odd, way to come at this whole birthday/anniversary thing is from the perspective of a eulogy.  Sounds weird but is really powerful. Listen to this week’s podcast and you’ll get to hear one of the very best “eulogies” ever written. It’ll give you a whole new perspective on things!