Reflection -- A key to improvement

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Darrell Judy
  • 32nd Flying Training Squadron commander
An interesting event happened to me the other day. While taking a long road trip I had some time to myself and realized how long it had been since I took time to really think.

Without the ringing of the phone or another pop-up e-mail message, having only the hum of the tires on the highway, I discovered how long it had been since I really took time to think, and more importantly, to reflect. Realizing this, it made me reconsider the importance of reflection and what an important part it plays in self-improvement and leadership.

When I discuss reflection, I don't mean the simple mental snapshot of an image in a mirror or a quick response to a question, but something a little deeper and more meaningful. Webster defines this type of reflection as "a thought, idea, or opinion formed or a remark made as a result of mediation."

So reflection, simply put, is the act of taking the time to analyze an experience or to capture lessons learned, gain clarity and to define what action, or inaction, is appropriate.

The importance of reflection in improvement and growing as a leader cannot be overstated. In fact, a leading author on leadership, Warren Bennis, highlights reflection in his book "On Becoming a Leader."

One of Mr. Bennis' four lessons on becoming a learning leader is consistent improvement by achieving true understanding of one's actions through practicing reflection. By actively reviewing and looking at the results of your actions in light of improvement you can actively change and grow as a leader.

Regardless of the leadership theory you subscribe to, most will include some form of reflection as a part of the improvement process.

You might ask yourself that if practicing reflection is so important, why don't people do it more often. Most likely it's a combination of not having an appreciation of the value of reflection and just not taking the time to do so.

The value of learning through reflection is self evident, so it is safe to argue people don't discount its importance to improving a person's leadership. The issue is really taking the time to separate one's self from the day-to-day activities and actively practice reflection.

Much like the importance of regular exercise to your health, reflection also takes a conscious and disciplined approach to be most effective. While sporadic or impromptu reflection can have benefits, participating in reflection on a daily basis is more effective.

To help you improve your skills it is important to set aside a portion of each day just for this activity. The period is different for each person. It could be time just following a work out, over that first cup of coffee or maybe late in the evening after the end of a hectic day.

Regardless of the exact time, pick one free of interruption that is easy to fit into your daily schedule. Then commit to spending this time on reflection, even if you don't have anything specific to think about. While this may appear unproductive at first, you'll eventually find this time very useful and may need to schedule more.

Actively reflecting with a specific goal or result in mind will make this time more effective and productive. A specific goal will assist in structuring your thoughts, examining specific areas for improvement or learning and help in discovering the lessons of your actions. By establishing a goal, you make better use of your time and possibly discover things you may have over looked previously.

As we become ever busier at work and have less time to do the "extras," we may be tempted to drop some seemingly non-productive activities such as reflection. Don't do it. Our Air Force needs leaders, good leaders, at all levels and one of the best ways to improve your leadership is through reflection.

As you continue executing your mission, make sure to take time to reflect. It is a simple task that improves your leadership skills and brings about great results.