Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Conrad S. Ciccotello

Second Advisor

David A. Levy

Third Advisor

Charles Dhanaraj


Critical reflection, Critical reflection methodology, Crucible experiences, Experiential learning, Leadership development


How do leaders translate experiences into insights? Critical reflection is offered as a leadership development process that illuminates effective practices following an empirical analysis of 352 United States Air Force Academy cadet essays that describe their most profound leadership experiences. These essays are iteratively analyzed and interpreted using the critical reflection methodology. The essays were examined to find how young leaders turn experiences into leadership insights. The study takes advantage of the distinctive Academy leadership development context and the data available from cadets’ essays describing their profound leadership experiences. There are three contributions bounded in this dissertation and multiple avenues for future research. First, a contribution is made by extending established leadership criteria in Thomas’s and Bennis’s research on crucible experiences, Yukl’s discussion of experiential learning in organizations and leadership behaviors, and Schon’s work on reflective practice. The project demonstrates the primacy of reflection among crucible experiences. Reflection can be viewed as a light. It is not the leadership insight itself, rather, reflection illuminates the leadership mechanism within the experience itself and creates a more useful, readily available value or behavior in the future. Next, these conclusions were enabled by applying the critical reflection as a research method. This methodology resulted in an empirical analysis of the reflective essays. Finally, the dissertation speculates that by understanding how crucible experiences shape leaders, the criteria can be proactively applied to anticipate support necessary for developing leaders to extract the most learning from experiences. This conclusion is underpinned by the theoretical congruence between individual and organizational frameworks.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.


Received from ProQuest

Rights holder

Matthew M. Orlowsky

File size

179 pgs

File format






Available for download on Monday, January 06, 2025