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Reflective Human Action

Reflective Human Action
On-Line Curriculum

Week 3 - Core Features of Reflective Human Action

Topics: Authenticity, ethical sensibility, spirituality and features of action
Objectives: Recognize the features of action in statements and correctly identify which feature is represented.

This week's assignments:

  1. Read E-lectures and Chapter Two and Organizational Issues 1-4
  2. Participate in one discussion question.
  3. Complete one activity.


Many believe "We are human beings having an occasional spiritual experience." BUT…

What if the opposite were true? What if we are spiritual beings having an occasional human existence? Imagine how that view of life would change your interpretation of experience!!

Authentic leadership really comes from the second perspective—we are indeed spiritual beings having an occasional human experience. It is this perspective that allows us to step back from the human situation, notice the human action presented to us, informing our response with authenticity, ethical sensibility and spirituality. Looking at human behavior from this perspective allows for observation of the human experience, complete with human foibles, challenges, and limited five-sensory perception. Standing in this new perspective, we can draw new conclusions about the challenges we face.

In human interaction, there is a stimulus and response. For most people, there is an automatic response to the situation. For example, a colleague makes a cutting remark; we automatically retort without thinking, making the situation worse. In a new reality, imagine a space between the stimulus of the cutting remark and your delivery of a response. Imagine that you can step into that space or gap and process the following questions:

  1. What is going on with my colleague that s/he would say such a nasty thing to me?
  2. Who do I want to be in my response?
  3. What alternative responses could I use to be the person I really want to be?
  4. Listen to your intuitive self to give you an appropriate response, and then consciously deliver the response that reflects who you REALLY want to be.

It is in the noticing of who we are being in a situation and who we really want to be that is a key to authentic leadership.

How do you know if you're being authentic? Robert Terry (1993) gives us a way to evaluate our responses in this 7 C's of authenticity: correspondence, consistency, coherence, concealment, conveyance, comprehensiveness, and convergence. This week's readings give clear definitions of each of these concepts.

Terry has analyzed human action and identified seven features of every human action: mission, meaning, existence, resources, structure, power and fulfillment. These seven features provide the framework for selecting an appropriate leadership response as we interact on a human level. Selecting the appropriate response requires the leader to frame the issue before responding. This framing will determine what we "see" in the interaction, and consequently how we interpret the meaning of the action, what alternative responses we'll consider, and how we deliver an authentic response. The ability to frame appropriately is a second key to authentic leadership.

The Action Wheel (Terry, 1993) will not provide any right answers—it is intended to generate new insights, to help a group question the obvious. It helps the group get unstuck. Although the positional leader will find the Action Wheel to be useful, its use by groups is by far the more important use. Instead of focusing on who's at fault or complaining, naming the issue takes the forefront.

The first step is analytic. It has to be acknowledged that as a member of a particular group, you may not have the ability (i.e., status, credibility, option to deal with the underlying issue) to provide leadership in bringing the issue to the stage of dialogue. Even if a particular group does not wish to examine the issue, the individual can use the framework to determine "What is going on?"

The second step is strategic—determining the intervention. Whatever feature we think an issue represents, it really represents the next feature clockwise as indicated by the direction of the arrow. If, for instance, an issue is determined to involve power, the intervention to work on is mission. Eventually, all features of action must be addressed, but what is critical is locating the focus of our engagement at the outset of the leadership task. Most of the time, leadership work will continue clockwise with subsequent features of action. But the Action Wheel is meant to help a group be creative in solving problems. After working through the intervention, it's possible that it would be useful to return to the foundations (the counter clockwise features).

Those of us who have worked with the Action Wheel have more and more respect for its value as a tool. But it takes time, and we don't necessarily expect you to have enough experience on one or two activities to determine its value for you. We're all learners, and we are all rich resources to each other.

Action Wheel

Leadership is a particular way of engaging with life. It is a lifelong commitment to growing toward human fulfillment.


In the following scenarios, using the Action Wheel (Figure 1) identify the issue, the appropriate intervention and the principle of Reflective Human Action required for leadership in the given situations.

Scenario 1
Charles is President of the ABC local chapter. He is concerned because there is lack of involvement by officers in the work of the chapter. He discusses the situation with several officers and identifies the concerns: "Nobody seems to care about ABC.", "I'm not clear on our direction.", "We are never very successful."

Scenario 2
Cindy and her new husband are struggling with blending two families into a fully functioning one. Such accusations and questions as "Things just aren't fair." "We don't do things like that anymore." or "Why are we doing this anyway?" are commonly heard.

Scenario 3
Ahn is working for an organization with declining membership statistics. She thinks the organization is important, but she is getting discouraged because she hears members say, "The times are against us." "There doesn't seem to be anything that will help us." or "The situation is hopeless."


There are seven features found in every human action: meaning, mission, power, structure, resources, existence, and fulfillment (Terry, 1995). These features are implicit or explicit in every action whether the action has occurred, is occurring, or will occur in the future. In themselves, these features are value neutral and are neither good nor bad. They are present whether the individual performing the action is aware of them or not. However, knowing that every action has these features can direct leadership to the discovery of what is really going on--toward framing issues appropriately.

  1. Mission is the direction, the toward which, of human action, the purpose, the expectation, the aim, the vision, the goal, the intention, and the objective. Mission directs and focuses power which energizes and modifies structures to accomplish a mega end. Mission answers the question: What is the ultimate purpose of this action?
  2. Meaning is the why or for which of human action and the context of action. Meaning of an action evaluates, recommends, justifies, and makes sense of the action. Meaning expresses significance and legitimacy and puts mission into context. It provides cultural justification and sets boundaries for human action. Meaning answers the questions: Why am I doing this action? What is at stake?
  3. Existence is the setting from which human action arises. Existence answers the question: What is the history of this event, situation, or action?
  4. Resources are the with which of human action. These are the tangible and intangible components with which action is accomplished. Resources limit power and structure and come from what is actually or potentially available in existence. Resources answer the question: What are the critical assets needed to accomplish the mission?
  5. Structure is the through which of action. It is the plans, the maps, the arrangements, the forms, and the processes that order and direct power toward the accomplishment of mission. Structures channel, sustain, and restrict power, generate new ideas, allocate new resources, and urge the mission forward. Structure answers the question: What are the plans and processes through which this action will be accomplished?
  6. Power is the actual expenditure of energy. It is the by which of human action, the decision, the passion, the self-determination, and the will that provides energy to the action. "It is the invisible spirit behind commitment, the unique human dimension of power" (Terry, 1993, p. 73). Power answers the question: What is the stakeholders' level of commitment for this action?
  7. Fulfillment is the completed human action. It is the into which the meaning, mission, power, structure, resources, and existence of human action converge at any given point in time. Fulfillment answers the question: What is the completed action?

Activity Instructions:

  1. Reflect on the following Problem List and identify the issues expressed by the comments. In your reflection, discern whether the statements are more about:
    • What is the ultimate purpose of this action? (mission)
    • Why am I doing this action? What is at stake? (meaning)
    • What is the history of this event, situation, or action? (existence)
    • What are the critical assets needed to accomplish the mission? (resources)
    • What are the plans and processes through which this action will be accomplished? (structure)
    • What is the stakeholders' level of commitment to drive action? (power)
    • What is the event in its completed action? (fulfillment)
  2. Compare your answers with the posted answers. Share your thoughts about any answers you do not agree with in the answer key. How were you framing the problem and why? Post questions that are generated for you.

Problem List
____________The situation is terminal.
____________We have conflicting policies.
____________We tried that before. It didn't work then, and it won't work now.
____________There is nothing to draw on for help.
____________Things don't make sense.
____________The decision making is by fiat.
____________Things just aren't fair.
____________Nobody cares about this place.
____________There is no coordination among jobs.
____________Morale is down.
____________People operate on selfish, narrow interests.
____________The organizational chart doesn't reflect the way things happen.
____________The things we have don't work.
____________One policy undermines others.
____________Why are we doing this anyway.
____________The company is poorly organized.
____________My energy level is really low.
____________There's nothing to hope or dream for anymore.
____________They don't do things right anymore.
____________I don't know what's happening. I just know that I was deeply upset when I left work.
____________The forces battering us are beyond our control.
____________We can't get things done.
____________We've lost our way.
____________History is against us.
____________All decisions are already made; it's a sham.
____________The environment is overwhelming us.
____________This is a crazy world.
____________There is no rhyme or reason to the way things are organized.
____________We need more, or less, of X for us to do our work.
____________The situation can't change.
____________The decision-making process is vague or undefined.
____________I don't know what we need.
____________We have a terrible track record.
____________We are not sure what we need to complete the task.


Terry, R. W. (1993). Authentic leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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