Reflection - a key to improvement

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Darrell Judy
  • 71st Flying Training Wing Chief of Safety
An interesting event happened to me the other day. While taking a long road trip I had some time to myself and I realized how long it had been since I took time to 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 really took the time to think, and more importantly, to reflect. 

As I allowed my mind to relax I took time to 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, but something a little deeper and more meaningful. The dictionary 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. Many leadership and self-improvement theorists include the concept of refection as an element of their respective processes. 

In fact, a leading figure on leadership theory, Warren Bennis, highlights reflection in his book "On Becoming a Leader." In regards to being a learning leader, one of his four lessons 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 what leadership theory you subscribe to, most will include some form of review or analysis as a significant part of the improvement process. 

You might be asking yourself, if practicing reflection is so important, why don't people do it more often? It is difficult to completely understand why we don't do it more. More than likely it's a combination of not having an appreciation of the value of reflection and just not taking the time. 

I think the value of learning through reflection is self evident, so it's safe to argue people don't discount its value. But understanding a direct connection to improving leadership might prove difficult. I believe the issue is really taking the time to separate one's self from the day-to-day activities and practice reflection. 

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

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

Regardless of the exact time, pick one free of interruption and that is easy to commit to in your daily schedule. Once you decide upon your time, 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 time for reflection. 

Actively participating in reflection with a specific goal or result in mind will make your time more effective and productive. Going into this mental exercise with a goal will assist in structuring your thoughts, examining specific areas for improvement or learning and help in discovering the lessons or results of your efforts. 

By establishing a goal, you make better use of your time and possibly discover things you may have overlooked 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; but don't. Our Air Force needs leaders, good leaders, at all levels and one of the best ways to improve your leadership is through reflection. 

So as you continue to execute the mission and prepare for our upcoming operational readiness inspection, make sure to take time to reflect. It is a simple task that improves your leadership skills and brings about great results.