Professional and Alumni

Reflective Human Action

Reflective Human Action
On-Line Curriculum

Week 5 – Applying the Features of Action to Issues in the Commons

Topics: Authenticity, Ethical Sensibility, Spirituality, Listening, Questioning
Objective: Examine personal authenticity.

This week's assignments:

1. Read the E-lecture and Chapter 3 in the text.
2. Participate in the Discussion.
3. Complete 1 Reflective Activity, posting responses in your journal.



Genuineness and a refusal to engage in self-deception characterizes authenticity. It "entails action that is both true and real in ourselves and in the world. We are authentic when we discern, seek, and live into truth, as persons in diverse communities and in the real world. What distinguishes leadership from other forms of action . . . is that leadership calls forth authentic action in the commons" (Terry, 1993, pp. 111-112). In other words, authenticity is reflective engagement in those public places where leadership lives, moves, and expresses itself.

Inauthenticity is abetted by the following factors: a sense of disconnection from institutions and people, the shift to information-based activity, questions about the viability of institutions, the popularity of virtual reality—made-up reality, the fragility of shared purposes, and a tendency toward relativism. However, the ability to name the challenges to authenticity gives hope for transforming the inauthentic.

Focusing on authenticity as a source for leadership is important in the areas of personality, inclusiveness of action, self-correction, engagement, vision, and ethical foundation. In these ways authenticity is as essential to leadership as the concept of action.

Individuals have the obligation to apply authenticity by exhibiting wise judgment, understanding self and others, demonstrating empowerment, and exhibiting personal growth and development. Authenticity is exhibited in community by an enduring future, mutuality/regard/respect, shared power in dialogue over collective interests, equitable and adequate distribution systems, adequate resources, and ecological diversity and survival.


Leaders can show authentic appreciation and respect for others by reaching out, listening to them, and learning from them. To be effective, we must listen actively to what others have to say. In this way, we affirm the legitimacy of another's way of looking at the world, and we begin to let go of some of the defenses we all have about what is different.

Active listening means engaging the mind with the message and the speaker. When you are concentrating on the message and the speaker, you are engaging in true communication with another.
Some techniques for active listening include being physically prepared, being open to other points of view, being curious and willing to ask questions, and listening for underlying meanings (Throop, 1993).

Physical preparedness goes beyond physically hearing the message. Listening can be improved by the following tips (adapted from Ailes, 1988, p. 60):

  1. Relax and clear your mind so you can HEAR and BE RECEPTIVE to what the other person is REALLY saying.
  2. Focus on the speaker. Screen out noises and other distractions from the environment.
  3. Listen for the whole thought and whole sentence.
  4. Concentrate on the first words the speaker says.
  5. Be open to the speaker even though you don't like his/her looks.
  6. Hear the whole thought of the person. Don't form judgments too quickly.
  7. Evaluate what the speaker is really saying. Distinguish between specific information and generalizations presented.
  8. Listen for intent as well as content. Be sure the speaker's eyes, body, and face are consistent with voice and words.
  9. Attend to nonverbal messages. Voice quality, eye contact, facial expression, and body language contribute meaning to the message and help you improve your ability to understand the message.
  10. Recognize that human communication has three phases: reception, information processing, and transmission. When any of these overlap, the communication has the potential for confusion.

Being open to another's point of view is not always easy! Each of us risks having to change our own views, feelings, ideas, or attitudes as a result of what we hear. "Listening in an open, nonjudgmental way does not necessarily mean that you must agree with everything the speaker says. It means you have to be willing to accept that the individual has the right to say it and to listen" (Throop, 1993, p. 205). Too, focusing on the other point of view means foregoing fault-finding and error-searching. This principle means that you let your curiosity about the other point of view guide your attention!

Part of being an active listener means formulating and asking meaningful questions that give additional detail and clarity about the message. Open-ended questions that require an explanation as a response also help to increase understanding.

Listening for meaning in the message is critical to learning from the message of another. Critical thinking skills are needed to identify ideas, facts, and relationships. This information is obtained with the following questions (Throop, 1993, p. 209): "What is the most important thing being said? What facts or ideas support the main idea? Does one thing cause another? Does this represent fact or opinion?"

These questions probe for information so you can learn from the message.

Listening openly and actively to the messages of others helps us affirm our willingness to reach out, to learn from others, to appreciate others, and to value differences as strengths.


Ailes, R. (1988). You are the message: Getting what you want by being who you are. New York: Doubleday.
Terry, R. W. (1993). Authentic leadership: Courage in action. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Throop, R. K. ( 1993). Reaching your potential: Personal and professional development. New York: Delmar Publishers.


Think of a time when you know you were authentic in an interpersonal interaction.

How do you personally know when you are being authentic and inauthentic? What do you observe about yourself when you are being authentic and when you are not? What do you hear in your head? What do you feel in your body? What conclusions can you draw from this?

Activity 1: Ethical Sensibility

Though ethics as a concept is familiar to all of us, some definitions will assure shared understanding. Ethics has to do with how people ought to act towards each other. Ethical issues have to do with questions of right and wrong--our duties and obligations, our rights and responsibilities in the ethical dilemmas at home, on the job, and in social situations. Ethical reasoning involves forming judgments about what to do.

Acting with courage is another way of saying ethical sensibility. Close your eyes and imagine someone acting with courage. Did you picture someone rushing into a burning building and saving a child or a pet, interceding with a potential attacker and preventing an assault in the park? Most of us envision dramatic, extraordinary acts when we think of acting with courage. However, it takes tremendous courage to choose to act based on principles of human dignity and respect, to be honest with yourself, to recognize rationalizations that keep you from living true to yourself, to stand up for the principles in which you believe, and to act for the common good. Ethical sensibility as a characteristic of leadership requires us to exhibit specific behaviors.

Ethical sensibility--the imperative to be intellectually and morally defensible.

But how does one judge how to behave ethically? (Mitstifer, 1989, p. 10)

Although there are various models of ethical principles, most include the following five:

  1. Value of Life - acting in a way which does not harm human life.
  2. Goodness or Rightness - using the principle of the greatest good for the greatest number.
  3. Justice or Fairness - assuring equality of treatment and fair distribution of benefits and burdens.
  4. Truth-telling or honesty - basing action on truth.
  5. Individual Freedom - assuring self-determination.

Terry (1993) applies the above generic ethical principles to leadership:

  1. Responsibility - accountability for authentic action.
  2. Love - attention, caring, and forgiveness.
  3. Participation - actual engagement.
  4. Justice - fairness.
  5. Freedom - potential and possibility affirmed.
  6. Dwelling - place, space, and time affirmed.

The overarching requirements for those who adhere to a social ethic are to SHOW UP and ENGAGE.


Mitstifer, D. I. (1989). Ethical dimensions of the scholar: A professional development module. East Lansing, MI: Kappa Omicron Nu.
Terry, R. W. (1993). Authentic leadership: Courage in action. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Activity 1 Instructions:

What would it take for you to exhibit moral courage as you face a situation you believe is unethical?

Choose one set of examples below. Examine how you might automatically react versus if you reacted with moral courage in the situations below. Reflect on your response first, drawing conclusions about you. Then ask two other people, of different generations than you. Are their responses any different from yours? Post your personal reflections on whether there are generational differences in terms of ethical sensibilities. Additionally, share your thoughts on what it really takes to show moral courage.


1a. Your sibling shoplifts a piece of clothing as you shop together.
1b. You learn that your sibling is wearing stolen goods.

2a. A friend tells you s/he is intimately involved with someone other than his/her spouse.
2b. You see your friend having an intimate, romantic dinner with someone other his/her spouse.

3a. You buy clothing made in a sweat shop in Malaysia.
3b. You can't find any childcare under $20/day. A friend introduces you to a new immigrant who will only charge $12/day to provide daycare for your child.

4a. You are on the board of an organization who "dumps" leadership roles and tasks on unwilling participants or people who don't show up at meetings. "Oh, Cathy, isn't here tonight…let's elect her to handle the convention since none of us have the time or interest!"
4b. You serve in a leadership position on a board, but are not available to attend the board meetings on a regular basis.

5a. You live in a community where intolerance is demonstrated by offensive language and judgmental gossip.
5b. Your friends would like to take you to a particular restaurant whose management is known to ship in young Jamaican men to capture the old world atmosphere of slave-servants.

Activity 2: Questioning and Listening

Focus on asking open-ended questions for one day and using active listening to receive the responses. Open-ended questions cannot be answered with a "yes" or "no". Open-ended questions often start with a "why" or "how". Such questions express curiosity, and lack built-in answers. At day's end, reflect on what new perspectives you discovered in the experiment. In your questioning, did you help anyone else gain a new insight as well? After completing this experiment, write your personal reflections on what have you discovered about the value of questioning and listening in gaining insight and creating synergy. E-mail your thoughts to your instructor.

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