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The Reflective Leader

Using Reflection and Critical Thinking in People-related Issues

Dr. Lee Kang Yam

Chief Learning Curator | Flame Centre

Using Reflection & Critical Thiniking | Performance Management

In my consulting and training work on performance management, I have come across leaders who consciously reflect on their actions and their impact on their staff and outcomes.

Reflection on practice or reflective practice is the ability to reflect on one's actions to engage in a process of continuous learning. (Donald Schön, 1983).

What does it mean to reflect?

When we reflect, we recapture our experience, paying critical attention to events, people, emotions, ideas, and thoughts. It allows us to take a mental step back from our actions and observe from a third-person perspective to compare our past actions with the results and impacts of the actions.

In a recent performance management training, I shared the difference between training, coaching and mentoring and a few supervisors remarked, “I didn’t know that I was telling the staff rather than coaching the staff.” I had shown a short video on the “wrong way of coaching” and the “correct way of coaching” (click on the links to watch the videos) and after the videos, some supervisors reflected on their past interactions with their staff and realised why they did not get the intended results from their so-called ‘coaching’ sessions.

Let me share with you a tool that you can use to help in the reflection process.

The tool is called Layers of Analysis, akin to ‘peeling the onion’ by unravelling the levels of actions and impact. For example, a division leader once called me and asked for a training workshop to solve a people problem. He explained that his people are quiet in meetings and have no good ideas. He ended up talking more in the meetings, suggesting ideas for his people, and is tired. He asked me to create and deliver a training on creativity and critical thinking to solve his problem.

I was careful not to jump to a training solution and requested some observations in his meetings to better understand the situation. I saw that whenever he disagreed with his staff, he would cut them off curtly and proceeded to attack their assumptions. He often tore apart their ideas and arguments using logical deductions and questioning. I noticed that as he talked more and more, his people became more quiet. As his people became quieter, he continued talking, and then he felt tired and came to ask me for creativity training.

Using the Layer of Analysis tool, I drew up a table analysing his actions and impacts.

The Reflective Leader | Performance Management
© Dr Lee Kang Yam | Performance Management

  • The Presenting situation is the first level described or recalled by the leader. This is often the level where leaders experience and complain about their situation.

  • The second level or Actions by other people, looks at how other people are reacting/behaving in the situation or problem. It is important to capture the actions or reactions of different players or stakeholders in the situation. Think of it as cause and effect, every action has a reaction.

  • The third or core level, captures the Actions by the leader in the way he/she is handling the situation. In the above example, we can see that the actions of the leader, e.g., demolishing the ideas of his people, contributed to his people becoming quieter in meetings and leading him to talk more, suggesting ideas and coming to the conclusion that his people are quiet in meetings and had no good ideas.

As a Reflective Leader, can you use this Layer of Analysis tool to help you analyse and reflect on some people-related issues or situations in which you find yourself in?

Start using the Layers of Analysis Tool to reflect and analyse your situation now.


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