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Reflection is used as a learning tool to make sense of what we have experienced and how we can optimise our learning from that experience.

Mezirow understands reflection as an assessment of how or why we have perceived, thought, felt, or acted (Mezirow, 1990, p. 6).

Reflection is a mental activity aimed at investigating one’s own action in a certain situation and involving a review of the experience, an analysis of causes and effects, and the drawing of conclusions concerning future action (Woerkom, 2003, p. 40).



Morris and Wood (2011, p. 275) note the importance of reflection as a means by which people can develop a theoretical understanding that allows them to connect their own experiences past, present and future.

The ability to be aware of oneself and the differing values, beliefs and attitudes of others requires self-reflection, disclosure and active interaction with others (Sims & Brinkmann, 2003; Sims & Felton, 2006).

The process of reflection must be seen as a critical step in the learning process as individuals need to time to think back on the experience and try to make sense of action and casual links between behaviour and performance


Critical Reflection

Reynolds (1999, p. 538) states that critical reflection involves a commitment to questioning assumptions and taken-for-granted concepts embodied in both theory and professional practice.

The participant’s ability to engage in reflection determines the extent to which they can learn from their own experiences (Boud et al., 1985) and therefore reflection provides a meaningful way for leaders to gain genuine understanding.


Self Awareness

Self -awareness/self knowledge has been shown to be a key factor in differentiating successful managers from those that have failed (Shipper & Dillard, 2000 )

Successful managers must know themselves, their strengths, values and how they best perform (Drucker, 1999).

According to Goleman (2002) the three dimensions of self awareness are:-

Emotional awareness




The Importance of Self Awareness

In addition to knowing your emotions, your strengths and limits, and how others perceive you, it is important to know what motivates your behaviours.

A major influence on your behaviour is your personality, usually described as those relatively permanent psychological and behavioural attributes that distinguish individuals from others

(Quinn et al, 2015)


The Enigma of Self Awareness

Hayakawa (1962) asserts that the first law of life is not self-preservation but self-image preservation.

In other words prefer to see who we want to be, or who we think we are, rather than who we actually are.

Without self analysis and self disclosure, we will be trapped in the self-image and unable to develop critical capabilities.


How To Gain Self Awareness




Social Mirror



Diverse Experiences



Self Analysis

Behaviour Personality Attitudes Perceptions

modes of thinking Traits stereotypes

modes of acting Factors projections

modes of interacting expectations

motivation interests

The Role of Reflection in Management Development

Reflection offers the opportunity to:

View our own thoughts, feelings & behaviours.

Build a picture of who we are.

Make sense of what we see, do & feel.

Work through feelings & beliefs.

See the impact of, and attempt to integrate the experiences of the past and present.

See patterns in our thoughts, feelings & behaviours.

Map our progress and development.

Individual Reflection It means stepping back from the activity you have been engaged in and reflecting on the process-

What is happening?

What have I been doing?

What thoughts have I been having?

What feelings have I experienced?

What effect has my behaviour had on others?

In what ways could I be more effective?

What has affected my ability to do this?

What does this mean about myself and the way I approach situations?

What does it tell me about the assumptions I make?

What does it tell me about the way I behave?

What do I want to change about this?

How can I do this?

The Kolb Learning Cycle

Researchers such as Laird (1985), and Knowles (1984) identified that adults learn differently from children with a preference for experiential and activities .

Kolb (1984, pp. 2931) developed an experiential learning model that encompasses most of these learning preferences, and is consistent with social learning theory.

This theory, (Bandura, 1977), says that the development of behavioural and conceptual skills comes from observation and practice.

The Kolb Learning Cycle

Kolb (1984) suggested that in order to learn effectively, adults need to go through all of the four stages and that the process is an ongoing one.

This implies that adults continually engage in learning, and that understanding has to be attained through a process of thinking and testing as well as experience.

The Kolb Learning Cycle

Concrete Experience:

Kolb simply says that adults prefer to actually do something, engage in a process and be given the freedom to act for themselves. They do not like to be told but rather have a real experience to be able to consider.

Observation and reflection

The second step is that of observation and reflection. Because adults have greater cognitive skills, they will be able to gather more information than is given to them.

They will watch and observe others, how the situation changes and start to question how and why things are happening.

– i.e. to observe & reflect.

The Kolb Learning Cycle

Abstract conceptualisation and concept application

The third step in the process is the formulation of ‘hunches’ or more specifically, hypotheses about what has happened, what the underlying relationships are and what are the likely scenarios in the future.

Evaluation and Testing

The fourth and final stage in which the learners put their impressions to the test so as to verify their conclusions.

In this way the learners will either be satisfied with the outcomes, or recognise the need for further reflection and re-conceptualisation.

Maximizing Learning

Using Kolb’s model as a guide the learning of skills is maximised when participants get the opportunity to combine watching, thinking and doing.

(Latham and Saari, 1979b; Manz & Sims, 1981; Decker, 1982; and Clark et al., 1985)


Reflection on Action

Schon (1983) describes the process of reflection-on-action”.

This is a retrospective process, “in which practitioners return to the experience, attend to their own and others’ feelings about the experience, and re-evaluate the experience” (Foley, 2000, p. 52; Schon 1983, pp. 61-62).


The Reflection Assignment in MGMT 20134

The third assignment in MGMT20134 is designed as a reflection process.

By asking students to undertake diagnostic tools, case studies in class, and make regular commentaries after each class, the first three key stages of the Kolb Learning cycle are undertaken and the review of experiences and thoughts at the end of term is consistent with the “reflection-on-action” task.

The fourth stage of testing occurs in either future classes and processes or in the work environment.


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