Mission Impossible? Reflective Leaders as Change Agents

“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.”1

So here we are at blog post numero dos, and the big reveal. (If this is blog post number one for you, feel free to read the set-up here. Not necessary though, just put your hands in your lap and start patting). Drum roll…………….why thank you!

The Mission:

My mission, should I choose to accept it, is to influence change through reflective leadership. By demonstrating the behaviors and values needed in my agency in my own actions and in my relationships with others, I can create desired change. While my position remains officially, “Sabrina – Program Analyst”, through choice, my given title will be: ”Sabrina – Strategic Change Agent.”

The Why:

This decision to assign myself a new role (and fun title) stems from the work I’ve done in discovering who I am, identifying my strengths, skills and talents and defining the role I want to play in my organization.2 At my core, I gravitate towards giving structure and direction to groups of people. I enjoy thinking about problems and challenges and then coordinating and executing an effective strategy to achieve goals. After acknowledging these strengths, I decided to assume this new role as part of my strategy to achieve desired changes.

So you may be asking yourself, well, what sort of desired changes? It turns out a lot of people feel like I feel in my organization. We struggle with reconciling our personal values of hard-work, accountability and timeliness with the values the agency exhibits. Poor ratings in the employee view point survey sent a signal to the top that employees weren’t feeling satisfied or connected. The agency has begun a core values campaign to identify common values and set priorities in the agency.

While establishing core values is important, it doesn’t replace the need to focus on individuals. Recognizing that organizational change is the sum of individual behavioral changes, I must begin with achieving changes in myself and in the relationships I have with others. We live and work in a relationship-based economy, but my organization functions without a focus on relationships. In order to be an effective change agent, I need to re-engage in those relationships using reflective leadership.

What is Reflective Leadership?3

Reflective leadership places us in the arena; it moves us from being a philosopher who observes, contemplates, and interprets the world to becoming an agent who actively changes it. I’ve been playing the philosopher and, in fact, I’ve liked it. Thinking about systems and the way they work and then commenting (OK – working on this authenticity thing – complaining) about the inefficiencies—that was fun. I never considered my own role in the system.

In the arena, our capacities for self-awareness, careful observation and flexible response are tested in our interpersonal relationships. Often, our accomplishments in the arena are the result of successfully managing our interactions with others. Which qualities do you admire in a successful leader? Check out this list of skills and abilities desired in leaders 4. How do the qualities listed there compare with your list? I bet the traits you both identified relate to successfully managing relationships.

In order to interact successfully with others, reflective leadership calls us to reflect on ourselves, others and the system we connect in. It challenges us to focus on the places where we have the most leverage for achieving desired change: thoughts and feelings. Reflective leaders recognize the incredible connection between thoughts and actions5. Especially in organizations, the unwritten rules and the stories we tell ourselves direct our behaviors and interactions with others. Reflective leadership helps us to not only identify these behaviors in ourselves, but the way they play out and impact our relationships.

The Tasks of Reflective Leaders:

  1. Chose to be in the arena – make this choice intentionally and often.
  2. Commit to the journey of learning who you are – even the parts you hide in a closet.
  3. Exercise authenticity – show-up and engage genuinely
  4. Recognize your connections and relationships with others

Mission Accepted:

What might your mission sound like based on your strengths, skills and talents?

What role do you want to play at your agency?

Go ahead, give yourself a title – you deserve it!

I would love to hear your title, so leave me a comment to share.


  1. Karl Marx, “Theses on Feuerbach” http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/theses/theses.htm
  2. Do you need help identifying your strengths, skills and talents? Check out Kathleen Schafer’s book “Living the Leadership Choice”. It provides a 28 day road map that can help you get clear about you and all you have to offer.
  3. Want more information on Reflective Leadership? Check out this wonderful blog from Dan Ostreich. http://www.unfoldingleadership.com/blog/?p=171
  4. Attributes of effective leaders: http://www.zerotothree.org/about-us/areas-of-expertise/reflective-practice-program-development/what-is-reflective.html
  5. Check out these incredible quotes on the power of thought. Do you have some others you would like to share? http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/thoughts.html

I like Mike Dooley’s, “Thoughts become Things”

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