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Self-reflection: critical ingredient for leadership growth

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- Recently, Lt. Col. Kevin “HOBS” Crofton, 55th Fighter Squadron commander, wrote a commentary on excellence not being an act. At the end of that commentary, he asked us to reflect on some questions.

His words made me ponder if I placed enough time in my life to reflect on daily activities; did I use reflection to help guide my actions in the future?

Confucius said, “By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is the noblest; second, by imitation, which is the easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”

So if reflection is the noblest way to wisdom, the most important thing we can do to grow as leaders is take time for self-reflection. I argue, for reflection to achieve maximum effect, leaders must be honest with themselves. Are we self-aware enough to receive the feedback? If not, strive to answer yes.

What does self-reflection do for you?

I contend it makes you pause and gather an authentic assessment of a situation. Taking this time provides data points to assist in determining where to recalibrate actions – whether that be you or your organization. It also allows the ability to simply learn from an event.

As I conclude my command tour, I am spending a lot of time reflecting on different experiences over the past two years. I am analyzing what went well and figuring out ways to not repeat things that did not go so well.

I ask myself questions such as, did I give the team enough operating space to be autonomous and cultivate innovation or did I make professional development enough of a priority? The answers to these questions vary. Some are yes; others are no.

Asking these types of questions is important, but the honest answer to yourself is absolutely critical. The answer – gleaned from self-reflection – is what provides the most growth on your leadership journey. At the end of the day, reflection requires self-awareness.

My challenge to everyone is to find some point in the week where you can pause and reflect on events over the previous days or months.

Do not dwell on mistakes or successes, but allow the evaluation process to work in order to improve your effectiveness. Ask yourself the hard questions and embrace the feedback.

Lastly, remember we are all human and are going to have triumphs and failures; however, exercising our ability to reflect can make all the difference in how we respond to the challenges and opportunities presented in the future.