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Posted on March 15, 2018
Updated on September 3, 2020
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Reflective Management

Reflective management is a practice in which managers and leaders use their own self-awareness, behaviours and interactions as a source of learning

It is common practice for this management and leadership style to emphasise the development of emotional intelligence and performance within those practising it.

Through developing reflective practices, a manager or leader has the capacity to use challenges as learning opportunities, build stronger alliances and experience a greater sense of purpose and satisfaction, not only professionally but also personally.


Personal and Professional Wellbeing

As stated above, this has the ability to increase a person’s overall wellbeing and happiness, as it addresses elements within the positive psychology model of PERMA

PERMA is an acronym for Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships (Positive), Meaning and Accomplishments. These five elements are considered the scientific formula for happiness and wellbeing.

Reflective management is a practical approach which cultivates elements of PERMA through its practice. This process also uses an action learning theme within the context of managing. Therefore, it facilitates the manager or team leader in adapting to the demands of the current situation. This is achieved with live information, such as the emerging needs and resources available. This helps to form a solution-focused, problem-solving approach.

Although often dismissed as an unnecessary step for managers and leaders, reflective management plays a fundamental role in developing strategies and an effective organisational culture.

Without using reflective management, it is still easy to identify emerging challenges. However, the clarity regarding the approach to these challenges and who is responsible for applying changes to the approach can be skewed. This often leads to a crisis-led blame culture within an organisation.


Learning, Performance and Innovation

Learning is the keyword here. When a manager is curious to learn, they seek growth and development opportunities. Such managers often outperform those who ignore personal development needs within their management style.

Innovation is intrinsic in reflective practice. This is because this approach is responsive, therefore informing the customer, employee and the organisation about the direction of choices, as opposed to a personal agenda.

Ineffective management results in lower performance, lower team morale and internal struggles within teams. These all impact the performance and results of a team. 

Managers and leaders are in a position to exemplify ideal behaviours, such as personal responsibility, a willingness to reflect and react effectively and to demonstrate the process by which this can occur within teams. 

This process, being reflective, practises effective action through an informed understanding of what occurred and the role the manager or leader played within it, rather than assigning blame.


Purpose and Utilising differences

Often, there is an assumption that everyone sees things the way we see them. A manager can easily fall into the trap of believing that the values, beliefs and common sense informing their choices are universal. This is not the case. Reflective practices leverage difference and use it to develop a broader sense of the situation and solutions.

These practices facilitate a greater presence of strengths, clarity of blind spots and effective action. Otherwise, these differences will inevitably impact the capacity to relate, evolve, manage and perform.

There are significant differences in terms of positive results when coaching managers and leaders engage in reflective practice. With an improved awareness over the personal and professional practice and values used by the manager, positive results become integrated into the team and wider organisation over time.

Reflective practice for managers can be the marking point between good results and great results. When a manager sees and uses the 'self' and its impact on others as an instrument in their management and influence style, they equip themselves with an irreplaceable skillset and can strategically meet the demands of many agendas.

Reflective management reduces conflict and groupthink within teams, as well as the need for mediation or disciplinary processes. This process fosters a solution-focused culture.


The Self as an Instrument in Strong Management and Leadership

Within a reflective management practice, a manager learns to understand their own triggers and conflicting requests and how to get the best from those that report to them. They also learn about how their management style might impact employee performance.

The self is the main instrument in this managing style. The skills as an individual as well as the knowledge base and limitations all play into the style of management one offers and the level of performance a team can meet. The Johari window is one approach that is often used to explain this theory and raise awareness, as well as 360 reviews and personality tests to assist a manager in developing a greater understanding of self and impact on others.

Within management, it is easy to look externally for the problems and solutions while distributing blame and responsibility throughout a team, with little to no effective reflection on the impact of the role and approach of a manager on a situation. Often, in hierarchical structures, without reflective practice there can be a stagnation in the manager or leader's approach.

Without a level of awareness, a manager can start to work for the ‘boss’ over completing the requirements of the manager's role, which often involves being a bridge between the higher levels of the organisation and the ground realities. This includes supporting and directing a team, meeting customer needs and feeding back effectively to those they report to of the 'on-the-ground' realities. When power dynamics are at play within an organisation (which they always are) and reflective practice is not engaged, a manager can pigeon-hole their approach through unconscious fear and perceived threats.


Key Best Practice Guidelines

and the impact of reflective management and leadership

To engage with reflective management effectively, there are four key practice guidelines that facilitate high performance and overall congruency:

  • Developing the personal skills to reflect, objectively review, and ask for input effectively.
  • Engage in unbiased third-party feedback from a supervisor/consultant/coach external to the organisation.
  • Evolution of an individualised, evolving framework to manage within the needs of the customer, organisation and employees effectively.
  • Placing a high value on learning and solutions over needing to be right.

Through reflective practice managers and leaders sync with employees, employees sync with the customer and an organisation syncs with its purpose.

In an organisation lead by reflective practice, a ripple effect occurs that facilitates organisational development and personal leadership at every level.


Reflective Practice in Organisational Development and Culture

Any interference in people performance within a team (either personal or professional) interferes with the organisation's performance, profits and development. People make or break profits and brands. Bad and good decisions are made by people within an organisation on a daily basis.

Reflective management creates a culture that encourages and facilitates thought and accountability. Demonstrating to employees how to think in line with the organisational goals, values and culture results in less need to micromanage and solve problems. As at each level of the organisation, reflective practices inform the solution.

When reflective management leads, it creates a responsive culture of effective thinkers who take effective actions. This results in improved happiness and wellbeing, not just of the individual but of the team and wider organisation.


Take Away Points

Reflective practice equips a person with skills to manage personnel more effectively, as well as inform organisational development and innovative solutions.

Reflective management reduces conflict, gaps in knowledge or data and steers away from problematic blame cultures.

A reflective manager outperforms non-reflective managers and leads through role modelling as opposed to micromanagement.

Reflective practice is an approach with a number of techniques that are easy to apply.

The return on investment truly outweighs the adjustment and adoption of new techniques required.