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Reflective Human Action

Reflective Human Action
On-Line Curriculum

Week 6 - Applying the Features of Action to Issues in the Common

Topics: Framing Issues
Objective: Examine situations, using the Action Wheel.

This week's assignments:

  1. Read the E-Lecture.
  2. Participate in the Discussion.
  3. Complete one activity, posting your observations in your journal.


In Authentic Leadership: Courage in Action by Robert Terry (1993) the stage is set for the importance of framing issues.

What is leadership and what is expected of us as leaders? To ask these questions, [however,] is to challenge the adequacy of prevailing leadership perspectives. How comforting it would be to believe that some expert knows a simple formula for leadership and can offer a sure way for leaders to define and solve problems. Yet leadership experts differ profoundly, offering conflicting theories about the nature of effective leadership. Some theorists say the essence of leadership is vision. Others say it is empowering followers. Still others offer leaders management skills, on the premise that even if we cannot diagnose the problem and have experts fix it, perhaps we can manage it (p. xvi)

Terry's view is that leadership depends on the ability to frame issues correctly. He defines framing as the ability to answer the question: "What is really going on?" and to call forth authentic action in response to issues identified.

To truly answer, "What is really going on here?", the situation must be framed accurately.

The Authentic Leadership Model by Terry uses the Action Wheel (1993) as a tool to help leaders diagnose the real problems leadership faces and frame the issues appropriately. Framing issues requires the capacity to think in different ways at the same time about the same thing. The ability to see new possibilities and create new opportunities will enable leaders to find choices when options are limited severely and to find hope when fear and despair abound.

Terry's model uses the seven features common to all human action to frame issues. It is based on two hypotheses: all human action is structured the same and the way we frame an issue determines how well we focus the issue, judge what is really happening, and direct our attention and intervention for change. Terry believes that the questions related to the features of action are so important because we often fail to identify the real problem before selecting and implementing an intervention.

Issue framing is a critical task of leadership, but it is not a mechanistic activity despite the usefulness of the Action Wheel. Leadership must understand the principles of the universe and of action and use authenticity, ethical sensibility, and spirituality to serve the common good. Terry (1993) situates leadership in the following quote:

Leadership is not a means to another end. It is not instrumental. Leadership is the action itself. . . . Leadership is a gift to be unwrapped and treasured; leadership is choice, to be claimed; leadership is part of a web of interdependent actions, to be made functionally whole; leadership is participation, to be energized; leadership is adventure, to be embraced; leadership is creativity and innovation, to be playful. Leadership is total engagement offered for the well-being of the earth and all it inhabitants. . . These are truly times to try our souls. We do indeed have miles to go before we sleep. These are also times that inspire our souls. The world becomes us. We can meet the call and make the difference expected of us as partners of the universe. The common ground in our hope is our action together, asking the difficult questions, searching for the fitting responses. (pp. 273-274)


Conger, J. A. (1994). Spirit at work: Discovering the spirituality in leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Terry, R. W. (1993). Authentic leadership: Courage in action. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


(Three students will be specifically assigned to create the discussion scenarios for this week.) Post a leadership dilemma for the class to analyze in terms of issue and appropriate intervention, according to the principles of Reflective Human Action.


Test Robert Terry's theory in real life. Listen for a complaint or concern or objection on a project you are involved with.

  1. As you recognize the complaint, notice yourself in the situation.
  2. Pause to consider , "What is the issue here?"
  3. If you're not sure, ask probing, open-ended questions until you can identify the issue.
  4. Respond with an appropriate intervention according to the principles of Reflective Human Action.
  5. Post your observations in your journal.

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