Reflexivity: The Antidote to Objectification

Ann_Cunliffe,_Ph.DI had the privilege of meeting Ann Cunliffe, Professor of Organisational Studies, at the International Systemic Winter School in the Lake District last year. Having read many of her books and papers with great interest, I couldn’t believe I was actually talking to her in person, let alone to be in a play with her later that evening!

If you would like a gentle but intriguing introduction to her work, do check out her wonderfully entitled book ‘A Very Short, Fairly Interesting and Reasonably Cheap Book about Management’.

This morning I read a piece she wrote for the Taos Institute Newsletter in which she made the following observation about the objectifying effects of traditional management thinking:

For example, imagination (*I would add 5 Ps to this – people, processes, policies, procedures, protocols) is something to be ‘objectified’ – hypothesized, tested, propositionalised, and put into a nice self-assessment questionnaire… Objectification gets us out of all kinds of responsibility!

I whole-heartedly agree with Ann when she went on to say that leadership should not be seen as techniques, theories or competencies, but as a relational, reflexive and moral activity. By this she means moving away from the traditional understanding of ‘self as individual’ to ‘self as always in relationship with others’. For me relational responsibility means taking care not to inadvertently discriminate, subjugate or marginalise others through the imposition of our worldview. We do this by acknowledging that all perspectives are partial.

Reflexive practice is a way into relational leadership. “What’s reflexivity got to do with it?”, I hear you ask. Well, Ann answers this question much better than I can, with a personal story:

When applying for academic positions in the US, I was often asked what reflexivity meant and what it had to do with management and leadership – after all, it wasn’t a topic covered on organizational behaviour or leadership courses. My simplified response was that reflexivity is about critically questioning what we take for granted, what is said and not said, and what the impact might be, and that reflexivity had EVERYTHING to do with management.

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