Authoring our Narrative: Identity Work

Authoring our Narrative: Identity Work

This program has been adapted from Christopher Branson’s program Authentic Leadership, for the purposes of teaching ‘Educational Leadership as Vocation and Service’ at Australian Catholic University. Christopher Branson has continued to research and write around values, and values in educational leadership. We acknowledge and appreciate his expertise in this body of knowledge. Christopher’s original work is appropriated in many ways throughout this revised program: ‘Authoring our Narrative – Identity Work’ (2023) and has been duly referenced.  While based on Branson’s conceptual understandings of the Authentic Self this program includes other perspectives about how leaders can be the author of their narrative, understanding themselves in their identity work in their leadership endeavours.

Citation for Christopher’s original work: Branson, C. (2009). In search of authentic leadership. In Linking Links Program. Brisbane: Australian Catholic University.

The citation for this self-structured reflection: Norris, J. (2023). ‘Authoring our Narrative – Identity Work’. Master of Educational Leadership. Australian Catholic University. 

‘Connecting with the authentic self …means finding your way back to the no kidding, real you that existed before the world started crowding you out’ (McGraw, 2001, p.10).

This is your time now to find the real you, to close your eyes, quieten the outside voices, befriend your feelings and thoughts to allow your reflections to be self-revealing, of who and what you are.

Identity Work and Leading

Educational leadership is less about regulated roles and predetermined tasks. Considerable focus for leaders is actively shaping, we suggest authoring, their identities. A natural impetus is that leaders want to make their ‘way of being’ meaningful to themselves and others in their school communities. Roles in schools are often generalised across individuals with fixed descriptions – for example the faculty coordinator’s role is fixed within a school. These descriptions then may be used for judging a leader’s competence. These generalised descriptions are complicated in practice because as individuals we all differ. So, the attraction of identity-work is that it addresses ‘the complexities of organisational life by focussing on identity as fluid; concerned with the whole person; based on each individual’s life history’ (Cunliffe, 2021, p.65). Cunliffe proposes it makes sense to talk about leaders in terms of ongoing identity work, rather than fixed generalised managerial roles. Finally, for the purposes of this reflection in the context of educational leadership, we align with Cunliffe’s notions of identity: identity work is ‘always in relation with others’ (Cunliffe, 2021, p. 65)

Leaders can author themselves as moral beings by narrating ‘their identity work’ with preferred versions of the Self (Koning & Waistell, 2012). The process of narrating an identity is in relation with the ‘other’. One school leader comments that they are in ‘relation’ with their teachers, in a particular way: ‘I am their cheerleader, I champion their success’ (Norris, 2022).

Our views of ourselves as leaders impact on our actions. Cunliffe (2021) draws upon Ricoeur as her source to consider two modes of being: idem identity, concerned with what we are. The second mode ipse selfhood is concerned with who we are. Idem the Latin meaning is the same (see Figure 1). Here Cunliffe explains Idem is our sense of identity determined in how we see ourselves as being similar to others. She suggests that this often computes as generalised traits such as extroversion, emotive, sanguine. Ricoeur describes  this as the ‘portrait painted from the outside’ (1992:119 as cited in Cunliffe, 2021). Importantly for us as leaders the implications of idem identity is how we view our approaches to leading (i.e. disrupter, transformational, servant) then we will position ‘ourselves on these actions without questioning what they mean or the implications’ (Cunliffe, 2021, p. 147).  These generalised traits will have an impact on our actions.

In contrast, knowing ‘who’ we are we can be our author.  Ricoeur considers the importance of ‘ipseity, ipse being Latin for self’ (Cunliffe, 2021, p.147). Ipseity for our purposes is the ‘who’ we are. It is about the same and different to others. Our uniqueness. Both idem and ipse come together as we narrate (or author) our sense of identity. We propose this self-reflection is an opportunity for you to practically to interpret what ‘shows’ up for you with the aim of ‘authoring’ your sense of self. In simple terms, the process in this self-structured reflection is ‘identity work’ (Cunliffe, 2021).

‘Connecting with the authentic self …means finding your way back to the no kidding, real you that existed before the word started crowding you out’ (McGraw, 2001, p.10).

Figure 1: Narrative identity (after Ricoeur) (Cunliffe, 2021, p.147)

      From ‘Ways of Being’ to Behaviour

Our ‘ways of being’ influence our behaviours. Such ways of being positioned here are Self-Concept, Self-Esteem, Needs, Motives, Values, and Beliefs. Branson (2009) argues that ‘it is too simplistic to consider the inter-relationship between personal values and behaviour without considering other significant dimensions of the Self’. In Branson’s review he promotes the understanding that one’s own idealised self-concept is at the heart of how one behaves’. The self-concept is powerful in its influence over the other dimensions of Self. Individuals are unaware of their self-concept (Branson, 2009). Yet it has considerable knowledge about their behaviours. Moreover, Branson suggests individuals may be limited in their access to understand the other dimensions (determinants) of behaviour: self-esteem needs, motives and values. Such opportunity to come to really know the values that determine our behaviours is the rationale for this self-structured reflection.  

The adapted framework (Figure 1) from Branson demonstrates the hidden dimensions leading to our behaviours. One dimension that has been extended from Branson’s framework is the dimension of needs. This dimension is included because of the influence of our basic needs on the motives that drive us. In essence, working your way through this program, you are authoring but also coming to know the Self:

‘Connecting with the authentic self …means finding your way back to the no kidding, real you that existed before the word started crowding you out’ p. 10 McGraw.

Figure 1: From Being to Behaviour: Adapted from Branson’s ‘The Self’ (2005).

Let us begin with you, authoring your narrative to, in some ways, reveal your identity to your Self .

The self-structured reflection includes:

Reflection 1: Identification of Defining Event(s), Momentous Decisions and Pivotal People

Reflection 2: Self-Concept

Reflection 3: Self-Esteem

Reflection 4: Needs

Reflection 5: Motives

Reflection 6: Values

Reflection 7: Beliefs

Reflection 8: Behaviours

We will remind you as we progress about the detail around the reflective and reflexive devices, how you may observe your own ‘way of being’ as you engage with the various Reflections. We define a reflexive strategy as a tool that enables the individual to come to observe, understand and know their Self. Consistent with learning theory, the notion of reflexive activities aligns well with the concepts of double loop learning (Kim, MacDonald, & Andersen, 2013) and generative learning (Yorks et al., 2013). Yet we emphasise that reflexive strategies are distinct from reflection strategies, where the latter may be external to the Self. A simple way to think about reflexivity is: how am I observing my way of being in this event, or how am I observing my reflections?  Reflexive thinking and feeling are helpful for your Assessments. If you need more ideas on how you would structure your reflective | reflexive writing in these Reflections read: Bolton (2018) Ch.8. pp. 157-171 or turn to the appendices on Bibliotherapy (McLeod, 2014) and the power of ‘narrative’. Throughout these reflection processes, whilst there are guided questions, we invite you to engage in your ‘narrative’ (writing by shaping up a story, a poem, an illustration) about the experience itself and the way you are now currently observing yourself in this narrative. In this way, your reflexivity on your ‘narrative’ here is your ‘authoring’ act.

 Reflection 1: Identification of Experiences Defining Your Way of Being

Choosing an experience, episode or event that defined your way of being, changed your world view, shaped your identity, the way you see yourself or how you may ‘show’ up to others (Heidegger, 1996) is integral to this self-structured reflection. McGraw (2001) as cited in Branson argues that the aspects of your life experiences that create much of your self-concept are your “Defining Moments”, “Critical Choices”, and “Pivotal People”.

We will remind you as we move along about the reflective and reflexive devices in how you may observe your own way of being as you engage with the various Reflections. These devices are helpful for your Assessment. If you need more ideas on how you would structure your reflective | reflexive writing in these Reflections, read Bolton (2018) Ch.8. pp. 157-171.  .

Defining Event(s) and Your Way of Being

Journal opportunity: As you read about this perspective around Defining Events jot down your initial thoughts and feelings. Think about your narrative. Could you shape a story, poem, illustration here about your Self-Concept?

If we reflect upon certain periods in our past, we may recall certain incidents with some clarity. These can be termed our defining events. They could be defining because they may have shaped  who you are and what you are – as Self. These are those important memories from our past that we carry around with us. They could be events that entered our mind with such power that they actually helped to form the  Self. Jensen and Murphy (2020)  argue that our mind is constructed of two parts; the conscious mind and the subconscious mind. As we observe our life experiences (Table 1), what is happening is only registered in our conscious mind and may be forgotten (Branson, 2009). However, if a life experience leaves an impression in both our conscious mind and our subconscious mind, then this becomes a ‘defining event’. Our conscious mind only deals with the objective reality of the defining moment, the explicit details of the particular life experience, and this is what an individual would normally be able to recall. But what made this life experience into a defining event is that the event also left a lasting implicit impression on your subconscious mind (Branson, 2009).

Our subconscious mind stores our subjective response to this moment, as found in our self-talk (languaging), emotions, senses, body and world views particularly about the Self. This means that our conscious mind remembers the concrete details of what happened during this defining event while our subconscious mind remembers how it affected our understanding of  the Self (Branson, 2009, p. ). To fully understand the significance and importance of the major event, the individual needs to go beyond our conscious knowledge of the moment and become aware of what is stored in our subconscious mind. This means we may employ our conscious memories as a steppingstone to recall our emotions, senses, bodily responses and worldviews, which were evoked at the time and stored in your subconscious mind. It is not the memories in your conscious mind, but rather your memories in your subconscious mind that make this life experience a defining event (Branson, 2009).

What is important, these defining events are an access point for you to explore your sub-conscious mind. Whilst our defining event could be negative in its experience, it is an opportunity to access this unique part of you, befriend it and see what it has to offer you now.

Momentous Decisions Defining our Way of Being

Journal opportunity: As you read about this perspective on Momentous Decisions jot down your initial thoughts and feelings. You may like to shape up a story about this decision. Here you could engage with your narrative – write, dictate or record your thoughts and feelings.

Life demands making decisions. When making decisions there will be times when we will make choices with conviction and clarity. Even when we avoid making a decision, we come to understand that we are in fact making a decision. Decisions and choices contribute in a very large way to our sense of self-concept because they help form how and why our life is what it is (Branson, 2009).

Unlike our defining moments, some of which we have no control over, the decisions we have made and will make in our life are 100 percent our responsibility. Some of these choices have changed our life in some significant and lasting ways (Branson, 2009).These choices are an opportunity to revisit and to seek understanding from an observer’s perspective. What did this decision say to me about myself?

We acknowledge that  our internal reactions to these domains, may have created results that created biases in expectations about and interactions with the world. Individuals are active participants in the process of creating the Self. That is, when an individual responds internally to what happens in their life, they are exercising an internal choice. Your internal responses, just like your external behaviours, are a matter of unavoidable choice. Through our own decisions and choices (both internal and external), we create both authentic and fictional self-images in our self-concept (Branson, 2009).

Pivotal People Defining Our Way of Being

Journal opportunity:  As you read about the description of ‘Pivotal People’ you are encouraged to place down any initial thoughts and feelings about the person (s). In the same way as the two other domains, you are invited to start a narrative about the person(s) and your Self-Concept.

‘I am who I am because of you – we are inseparable from others because whole parts of our life are part of their life history…the other is always intertwined with us because we act in a complex web of present and previous relationships, conversations, utterances, language communities, speech genres and historical and cultural ways of speaking’ (Bakhtin, 1984, 1986) (in Cunliffe, 2012, pp. 144 -145).

‘Just as your self-concept is shaped by a series on defining moments and by a number of critical choices, it can also be profoundly influenced by a handful of pivotal people whose actions resonate, for good or ill, throughout the rest of your life. Once acknowledged, once identified as a source of impact, the effects that these people have had on us can be dealt with. By openly reflecting on the role they have played in your life is an opportunity to enrich your current way of being’ (Branson, 2009, p. 6).

‘It can be the case that the pivotal people in your life are those who gave you words of encouragement at a critical time, who opened up opportunities you didn’t know existed, who unravelled for you a problem you thought had no solution. They can be people who stepped up at critical times with great acts of courage and support or they can be humble people who demonstrated their love and concern for you. Sometimes they are the people who recognised in you a particular talent and inspired you to develop it. They may even have been people you didn’t know very well but whom you watched from a distance how they lived their life and this challenged you to live yours with the same qualities. They can be people who loved you when you were not very lovable’ (Branson, 2009, p. 6).

‘Pivotal people can be your heroes or your role models but they can also be your torments. It is not uncommon for a successful person to be able to attribute a great deal of positive characteristics in their self to someone whose influence at a particular time was entirely negative or destructive. People can accommodate or adapt negative experiences in healthy and positive ways. In other words, some of the negative people in your life may have actually toughed you up; they may have made you work hard to escape and in the process you may have become a much better person’ (Branson, 2009, p.6).

‘On the other hand, a pivotal person may have influenced you to have a negative, fictional view of your Self in certain circumstances. Particularly as a child, the views of authoritative figures, such as parents or teachers, can leave a lasting impression in your mind. It is natural for a child to interpret a criticism and negative opinion of a specific behaviour, when presented by an authoritative figure, as a factual and unfavourable image of their true Self and so strive to suppress this behaviour for the rest of their life’ (p.6).

Choosing an experience, episode or event that defined your world view, shaped your identity, the way you see yourself or how you may ‘show’ up to others (Heidegger, 1996) is integral to this self-structured reflection.

Branson guides us here, drawing on McGraw (2001), where he suggests these 3 domains of experience that an individual may recall to reveal the Self to ourselves:  a defining moment, a critical choice or a pivotal person(s).

The program is reflective and reflexive

In this program we encourage you to reflect in these 3 domains about what changed your world view or defined some component of your identity. After exploring the dimension of Self- Concept you need to only choose one that you think has been the most influential in your life. However, for questions on the Self-Concept you will choose one from each domain. We single out or extend your narrative around the  Self-Concept because we argue that the Self-Concept is the hidden part of ourselves, and yet is influential in the other dimensions of Self.  

Keep safe: It is important to choose your experience that keeps you safe. Only choose an experience that you are comfortable to explore and be reflexive. Do note that your written reflections on this experience are for you only.

Reflexive devices: With your reflexive strategies we encourage you employ some of the devices you have learnt about. For example, the ontological devices around ‘observing your own observing’ – in language the self-talk you hear yourself saying, the mood you were residing in and the bodily sensations as you reflect. This ontological observing opens up another possible level of learning. You may wish to utilise these ‘second order’ questions in the reflection experience.  I can now question the observer I am. I can ask myself the question, “What is it about my way of being that I see the situation this way?” So, second order learning is a process that is self-revealing of our observing of our world. As such second order learning is a reflexive strategy: “What is it about my way of being that I see the situation this way? “You may also experience the ontological  ‘breakdown’ (Chittenden, 2013) or as we interpret this  as a disruption in our way of being.

The initial reflection (Reflection 1) is adapted from Branson’s (2009, p. 9) table. It will enable you to design an holistic review in these 3 domains. Column 1 follows Erik Erikson’s psychosocial  developmental stages (Orenstein & Lewis 2021). If these stages are inappropriate for you then you may employ age ranges. You are now invited to identify experiences and people who may have defined your way of being through your life. In Column 5 you are encouraged to place down your observations of what is occurring for you in your way of being as you engage with your identification of an event or person(s). In this way your observations will help you with your Assessment Tasks. Stuck with your observations? Draw upon the ontological devices of ‘observing your observing’ – in your language, mood and body.

Table 1: Identification of Experiences Defining Your Way of Being

Stage2. Defining Event(s)3.  Momentous Decisions4. Pivotal People5. Observations of your Way of Being (initial)
Early Childhood
School Age
Young Adulthood
Middle Adulthood

From Table 1: ‘Identification of Experiences Defining Your Way of Being’ choose an event, decision and person(s) which influenced your world view or ‘way of being’ most significantly. That is, you will choose one from each domain

Take your choices, read the preliminary sections and engage with the questions in Reflection 2: Self-Concept.

Reflection 2: Self – Concept

Self-Concept is a hidden part of ourselves. Branson (2009) suggests that we are not necessarily aware of our self-concept. This Reflection aims to make visible, what is hidden. Our self-concept is broad in what makes us who and what we are. As humans we have 99 % in common with other humans. However, our race, gender, sexuality, placement in family, religious beliefs, moral and ethical codes, geographical home, and temperament to name a few, make us who and what we are.

Coming to know this Self is complex yet rewarding. As such, Reflection 2 has the most questions to reflect upon to come to know the Self.  We also point out that you have two responses – reflective and reflexive. The reflexive column may seem burdensome however is helpful for the utility in evaluating self-reflection. The following reflection ask questions about your real Self and identity. Here we see identity as fluid and emerging. Cunliffe (2021) posits that we as leaders are engaging in ‘identity work’ continually (see Cunliffe, 2021, Ch 3, notably the Discourse of Identity Work chart p. 70).

2.a. Defining Event. Choose one event from Table 1 above that captures your world view or your way of being and importantly one that you are comfortable exploring.

Questions[1]: Self-Concept :-Defining EventReflectionReflexive: Observations of your way of being (language: self-talk, mood, body: bodily sensations)
Describe this defining event. What was happening that makes this moment so significant?  
What emotions or changes in emotions did you experience at this time? Love? Loneliness? Power? Anger? Fear? Confusion? Foolishness?  
Who was there with you? Did they play any part in how you felt about his moment?  
Were you in control or at a loss? What were your bodily responses?
What language were you using – self-talk?
What situations in your life, today, relate to this moment? What do you say to yourself during these situations?
Would you change the situation if you could? How?
What image or understanding about your Self did this moment instil in your memory?  
Is this a true image of your real Self? Did this moment contribute to your identity? If you are the author of your narrative. What would you retain or dismiss??  

Text Box: Authoring your Narrative: What story can you tell here that directly influences who and what you are (identity)?

2.b Momentous Decision: Choose one Momentous Decision from Table 1 above that captures your world view or your way of being and importantly that you are comfortable exploring.

Questions[2]: Self-Concept – Momentous Decisions  ReflectionReflexive: Observations of your way of being (language, mood, body)
Describe the situation surrounding this momentous decision. What makes this decision so significant?
Why did you make this choice?
What alternatives did you give up in making this decision?  
What do you say to yourself (languaging) when you think or feel about this decision?  
What situations in your life, today, relate to this decision? What is your languaging during these situations?  
What can you learn about your image of yourself or identity from this decision?  
Is this a valid assessment of your image of your real Self? Did this decision contribute to your actual Self? Why?  

Text Box: Authoring your Narrative: What story can you tell here that directly influences who and what you are (identity)?

Authoring your Narrative: What story can you tell here that directly influences who and what you are (identity)?

Text Box: Authoring your Narrative: What story can you tell here that directly influences who and what you are (identity)?

2.c Pivotal People: Choose the most compelling pivotal person(s) from Table 1 that captures your world view or your way of being, and importantly the pivotal person(s) that you are comfortable exploring.

Questions[3]: Self-Concept – Pivotal PeopleReflectionReflexive: Observations of your way of being (Language, mood, body)
Describe a key situation in which this pivotal person impacted on your life.  
Describe this person’s conduct or behaviour that you now see as having influenced your life.  
Describe the effects on your image of yourself or identity that you can now attribute to this person and their actions.  
What languaging about yourself do you make that can be traced back to the influence of this person?  
What situations in your life, today, relate to the influence of this person on your life? What languaging occurs for you during these situations? What mood do you reside in, in these situations? What bodily sensations occur for you during these situations?  
Is this a valid assessment of the image or identity of your real Self/identity? Did this person contribute to the Self? Why?

Text Box: Authoring your Narrative: What story can you tell here that directly influences who and what you are (identity)?

Preparing for Reflections 3-8

Choose only one: For the next dimensions of Self you are invited to only choose one from Defining Event OR Momentous Decision OR Pivotal Person(s). You have now hopefully opened up knowledge about your Self-Concept. Your knowledge now may help you to determine your next option. Reflections 3-8 will be based on your option.

Taking care of you: Look ahead at the reflective questions. We remind you to take care of yourself in your choices. Ponder on where you are in your own life currently. Will the reflections enhance your current Self? What aspect are you curious about? Do you have the disposition and time to explore a potentially highly emotive experience? 

Take your option and engage with Reflections 3 – 8, which are based on the dimensions of Self presented in Figure 1.

Reflection 3: Self-Esteem

We suggest that self-esteem refers to the opinions we have of our Self- Concept. Some aspects of our Self-Concept are like old friends. We may view other aspects of our Self-Concept as disruptive and unwelcome.  In essence, our self-esteem is situated in our assessments of our Self-Concept.

Assessments of our Self-Concept may not be based on facts. Sometimes we may believe that our assessments are facts, even when the assessments do not serve us well. Until we have a disruption to challenge such assessments, we may carry these assessments throughout our life. For example, let us consider gender. When we form a narrative about what it is to be female or male, over time, we may realise that our story of maleness or femaleness may diminish our potential, or become aware that others do not perceive femaleness or maleness this way.

Reflection 3 may help you to come to understand some of the assessments you have of the Self – the who and what you are. It is an opportunity to challenge some of the assessments that you may have or had about your Self.

Keep the same option for the following reflective and reflexive experience. You may like to remind yourself that Self-Esteem, simply put, is the opinion you have of your Self-Concept.

Questions[4]: Self-EsteemReflectionReflexive: Observations of your way of being
What do you say (languaging) about your Self when you recall this situation? What facts support your assessment of yourself in this situation? What facts do not support your assessment?  
What messages/image about your Self /identity did you pick up?  
If you could capture the essence of your Self or identity formed at this time in a single sentence (“I am ….), what would it be?  
How does your Self-Concept formed by this moment/choice/person make you feel about yourself? How does it influence your sense of self-worth? What level of self-esteem does it create?
Is this a fictional image? Is it grounded on fact? Does your fictional image suggest to you a change of thinking or feeling?

Text Box: Authoring your Narrative: What story can you tell here that directly influences who and what you are (identity)?

Reflection 4: Needs

The first step towards achieving a clearer understanding of our motives is to be aware of our level of self-esteem, which you have now reflected upon. The second step is to acknowledge how your core needs take care of you by attending to your self-esteem. Hence, our needs arise by addressing our self-esteem assessments. For example, if an individual’s self-esteem fluctuates around the opinion that they are less worthy because they have had no financial means, their core need (‘to care of Self’) could be security. The individual is seeking to maintain a sense of worth, by taking care of that need. We suggest that the level of our measure of achieving our potential is by the degree to which we are fulfilling our core needs. The reader here may now understand a little more why dimension of need has been included in the framework. While Maslow (1970) proposes seven core needs, Branson (2009) extends these (see Appendix 1).

The following exercise attempts to structure a reflective process for achieving an understanding of how our core needs maintain or ‘take care of’ our individual self-worth.

Questions: NeedsReflectionReflexive: Observations of your way of being
From the impact on your self-esteem formed by this moment/choice/person, and using the provided list of potential core human needs (Appendix 1) as a stimulus, name your core needs most affected by this particular situation.  
For each of these core needs state whether or not the need(s) was/were enhanced or threatened?  
What is your thinking and feeling in everyday life when this core need(s) is /are enhanced?
What is your thinking and feeling in everyday life when this core need(s) is /are threatened??
What behaviours do you observe in yourself when the need(s) is/are met?
What behaviours in yourself when your need(s) is/are not met?
What has been surprising for you in this reflection about your needs and your image of Self or identity?

Text Box: Authoring your Narrative: What story can you tell here that directly influences who and what you are (identity)?

Reflection 5: Motives

‘The fundamental role of our motives is to enable us to fulfil our potential regardless of any fluctuations in your levels of self-esteem’ (Hultman & Gellermann, 2002; Maslow, 1968; Osborne, 1996 as cited in Branson, 2009 p.13). Motives are driven by our core needs. The role of our motives  redresses any situation ‘which seems to reduce our attainment of our core needs…our motives provide us with the sense that we are adding worth to our own life’ (Branson, 2009, p. 13).

While our motives enable us to operate effectively regardless of our level of self-esteem, they work to maintain the status quo of our self-esteem. In most situations, our motives enable us to act in ways that are beneficial, but this is not always the case. Should the circumstances associated with a particular situation give us a sense of high self-esteem based on the anticipated achievement of success, acceptance, control, or affirmation, our motives might be directed towards maximising our potential  to strengthen our sense of worth, but this could be to the detriment of others involved. On the other hand, should the circumstances associated with a particular situation give us a sense of low self-esteem based on a fear of failure, rejection, losing control, or embarrassment, our motives may be directed towards taking precautions to protect ourselves, to stop the worst from happening (Branson, 2009). Clearly our needs drive these motives. Hence, developing an ability to become conscious of our motives is at the heart of who we are as a person, particularly in ‘relation with the other’ (Cunliffe, 2021).

Questions: MotivesReflectionReflexive: Observations of your way of being
As a result of these core needs, what motives have you created in your mind whenever you face a similar situation? What things are you telling yourself that you should do? (eg. If your core need for Affirmation was not achieved in a defining moment, your resultant motives might be: Always avoid being made to look foolish. Never say what I am thinking until I know I am right. Do not depend on other people’s help. I will never be worthy unless I am perfect. etc.)
When might this situation impact on current aspects of your life?
If your motives need to be changed so as to enhance your Self, what should they be?

Text Box: Authoring your Narrative: What story can you tell here that directly influences who and what you are (identity)?

Reflection 6: Values

At this point we have identified our needs and motives. Some of these motives may have come as a surprise to you. Knowing your motives what would you likely value? That is, what importance or worth do you attach to qualities that are particular to you. We will have a preference according to our motives (for example independence, autonomy). These preferences may actually  authorise our Self-Concept. We consider our values as intrinsically worthwhile and desirable. Notably, they are particular to ourselves. Our actual values, not our proclaimed values, are influential because they play a crucial role in guiding our beliefs and ultimately our actions.

Once we have clarified our values it is important for us to review the congruence of your values, aligning with who and what we are as a person in our leadership dynamic. A value may seem worthy but in the context in which we apply this value. Sometimes, the value may support how we want to be. We may be surprised, when knowing our motives, that we unearth values that did not realise we had. It is important to be kind to ourselves in this process. Befriending our actual values is a pursuit to know and accept the person we are. As we learn about this Self, and embrace this Self, can we become more aware of how we ‘show up’ to others (Segal, 2010). The Self is always in relation with the other (Cunliffe, 2021).

As a result of your need to achieve your Motives formed by this moment/decision/person, using the supplied list of potential values (see Appendix 2) as a stimulus, you are invited to reflect on the following:

Questions: ValuesReflectionReflexive: Observations of your way of being
What qualities/characteristics do you value most in your Self in this sort of situation? Are these suitable/appropriate values? Do these values enhance your Self, who and what you are (identity)?  
How are these values aligned to your needs and motives?
What qualities/characteristics do you value most in others in this sort of situation? Are these suitable/appropriate values? Do these values enhance your real Self / identity or do you have inappropriate expectations? Or expectations that do not ‘serve’ your Self well?  
What qualities/characteristics do you value most in how you go about completing important tasks that you align with this situation? Do these values enhance your authentic Self? Are these outcomes realistic?  
Are these suitable/appropriate values? If yes, how are they? If not, why not?
Do these values enhance your real Self , emerging identity?  
Are these outcomes realistic?

Text Box: Authoring your Narrative: What story can you tell here that directly influences who and what you are (identity)?

Reflection 7: Beliefs

Our beliefs are commitments to ourselves. It is something we trust or have faith in. Beliefs are determinants of behaviours. When an individual decides how to react to a given situation, they may not review all the available facts about the situation. Rather, we activate a set of trusted beliefs, which allows for a faster analysis of the information and a more immediate response (Branson, 2009).

Our perception is a belief and not a reality because it is heavily influenced by what we expect to see. ‘Even when the observed reality is immediate, concrete, and, seemingly, incontestable, people view, analyse, and judge it through preconceived notions and biases. Thus, our reality is a personal construction based on beliefs rather than a given …'(Branson, 2009, p.18).

Our beliefs are tangible links between our largely unknown values and our clearly observable behaviours. It is relatively easy to clarify and acknowledge our beliefs. However, the adapted questions from Branson will help you with this process.

As a result of your Motives and Values formed by this moment/choice/person what are some of your beliefs about:

Questions:ReflectionReflexive: Observations of your way of being
Your Self if your motives/values are – • Achieved? Not achieved?  
Others if they –
• Support your motives/values/ways of doing things?
• Do not support your motives/values/ways of doing things? As a result of this experience, what sort of tasks do you believe you are – • Suited to? Not suited to?  
Are there any beliefs that seem incongruent to your ideas about your identity or your real Self? If yes, what would be a more beneficial belief?  

Text Box: Authoring your Narrative: What story can you tell here that directly influences who and what you are (identity)?

Reflection 8: Behaviours

Beliefs are predispositions to act in response to the life issues we are facing (Hodgkinson, 1996). People act in certain ways according to that belief. Your beliefs cause you to not only act, but to act in a unique way. Behaviours, Branson (2009) argues that beliefs ‘are the observable outcome of your inner subliminal processes that originate in your self-concept and are formed through the interplay of your self-esteem, motives, values, and beliefs’ (p. 18)

Questions:ReflectionReflexive: Observations of your way of being
What behaviours resulting from your Values and Beliefs formed by this moment/choice/person in regard to – a)  What you like to do? b)  What you avoid doing? c)  How you relate to others?  
What aspects of your style of leadership are influenced by this Defining Moment, or Critical Choice, or Pivotal Person?  
How do these leadership behaviours reflect your real or  fictional Self?  
What other leadership behaviours would strengthen your identity in the who and what you are in your leadership endeavours?

Text Box: Authoring your Narrative: What story can you tell here that directly influences who and what you are (identity)?

Optional Reflection.

You now may wish to track this experience in a holistic way. In populating the following table, you could copy and paste your Reflections from 2-8. There is a space in Column 1 to be explicit about one of your narratives that was self-revealing to you. By charting your identity in this way, the chart itself, could be a springboard for your Leadership Platform.

Table 2:  Identity Chart (Adapted from Branson, ‘The Authentic Leadership Chart’ 2009, p. 19)

1. Life experience (narrative)2. Self-Concept3. Self-Esteem4. Needs5. Motives6. Values7. Beliefs8. Behaviours
Take segments of your narrative above, extend if you wishWhat hidden part your self-concept is now visible? My identity I have now, can be described as…As a result of this life experience, I have: High levels of self-esteem Moderate levels of self- esteem  Low levels of self-esteem in situations which I…    The experience led me to these  core needs …As a consequence, the following motives emerged created the following motives in similar situations  From these motives the values that are important are: (x3)As a result of these Motives and Values I have created and committed to the following Beliefs:  As a consequence of this life experience and its effect on my self- concept, self-esteem, needs, motives, values and beliefs, I have adopted the following behaviours:  

Text Box: Authoring your Narrative: What story can you tell here that directly influences who and what you are (identity)?


Table 3: List of Potential Core Needs (Branson, 2009, p.20).

Table 4: List of Possible Values (Branson, 2009, p.21).

Using Narrative for self-revelation

McDonnell, R. (2014). Creativity and Social Support in Mental Health. CH 7.  p.121-122

Bibliotherapy and Reflective Journaling

The friends that have it I do wrong

Whenever I remake a song, Should know what issue is at stake:

It is myself that I remake.

W. B. Yeats (1908) Preliminary Poem, Collected Works II

That poetry was not an alienated thing in the outer world but rather grew as an actual expression of self-in-the-making was a central conviction of Yeats. This self-in-the-making at the core of the poem is evident throughout his work and his philosophy (Webb 2000: xxvii; De Heer 2013). Inherent in Yeats’s argument seems also to exist the sense that our inner selves are in a continual process of ‘remaking’ throughout life and that self-expression is a core human drive. More than half of the day centre clients interviewed in Galway, six out of ten (McDonnell 2006), stated or implied they were in some sense remaking themselves, whether that was in terms of being in recovery, finding a new way to live with the changes in their lives, or a feeling that life was ‘better now’. In almost every case, they turned their interview into a story of their life experience and a statement of how they imagined the future. Some individuals talked about loss as well – loss of faculties, of relationships, of confidence, but these were consistently relegated to the past and a new attitude adopted towards the present and the future. To be in their company was both humbling and uplifting. To experience their optimism fuelled the drive to complete the research report and ultimately to write this book.

While the Galway study did not produce any significant material on bibliotherapy as such, the very emergence of spontaneous life and recovery narratives that we have witnessed demands some attention to the phenomenon of narrative. Furthermore, as in the case of the music chapter, informal conversations in the day centre did, often, dwell on books and magazines people were reading, their favourite subjects at school and sometimes a favourite poem. More often, the conversation turned to films and TV dramas. Cultural studies scholars attest to the psychological effects of television and film as they reflect simi- lar preoccupations with human experience and, relationships as do the more traditional, classical literatures and texts (Hall et al. 1992; Strinati 2004). These approaches take account of ‘the active viewer making meaning from the signs and symbols which the media provide’ (Morley 2013: 17).

Imagining, myth making and storytelling are ubiquitous human pre- occupations and individuals and groups have long turned to books, song lyrics, poems, drama and journals for emotional support and to manage the highs and lows of social life. Not only do humans devour the writ- ten word. The sheer existence of relentless streams of cinema audiences, networked and online film subscriptions and all manner of packed out theatrical and dramatic performances is evidence enough that humans seek out a good story with all the emotional stimulation that comes with it.

These arts are a growing part of the therapeutic repertoire in counselling, mental health recovery and indeed in everyday life. Diary keeping and journaling have always been popular pastimes but there is now a burgeoning self-help literature on creative journaling for health and well-being. Electronic formats are also rapidly establishing themselves within the web of verbal and imagistic media for self- expression. Bloggers will attest to the uplifting effect of completing and uploading a post and even the professional literature displays recent articles on the therapeutic possibilities of online communication and the therapeutic use of social media (Haberstroh et al. 2005; Nagel and Anthony 2009).


Branson, C. (2009). In search of authentic leadership. In Linking Links Program. Brisbane: Australian Catholic Uuniversity.

Cunliffe, A. L. (2021). A very short, fairly interesting and reasonably cheap book about management. A Very Short, Fairly Interesting and Reasonably Cheap Book about Management, 1-224.

Heidegger, M. (1996). Memorial address (JM Anderson & E. Hans Freund, Trans.). Discourse on thinking, 43-57.

Hodgkinson, C. (1996). Administrative philosophy: Values and motivations in administrative life.

Jensen, C. J., & Murphy, J. (2020). Expand the Power of Your Subconscious Mind. Simon and Schuster.

Koning, J., & Waistell, J. (2012). Identity talk of aspirational ethical leaders. Journal of Business Ethics, 107(1), 65-77.

Maslow, A. (1970). Motivation and Personality. 2nd.(ed.) Harper and Row. New York.

McGraw, P. (2001). Self matters: Creating your life from the inside out. Simon and Schuster.

Norris, J. (2022). … Somehow Frame Accountability to Make Sense of It. In School Leaders’ Sensemaking and Sensegiving (pp. 100-134). Brill.

Orenstein, G. A., & Lewis, L. (2021). Eriksons stages of psychosocial development. In StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing.

[1] All reflective questions are adapted from Branson (2009). In search of authentic leadership. In Linking Links Program. Brisbane: Australian Catholic University.

[2] All reflective questions are adapted from Branson (2009). In search of authentic leadership. In Linking Links Program. Brisbane: Australian Catholic University.

[3] All reflective questions are adapted from Branson (2009). In search of authentic leadership. In Linking Links Program. Brisbane: Australian Catholic University.

[4] Reflective questions in Reflections 3-7 are adapted from Branson (2009). In search of authentic leadership. In Linking Links Program. Brisbane: Australian Catholic University.

Educational leaders in school communities responding to complex and high velocity events

Participant Information Letter

Project Title: Educational leaders in school communities responding to complex and high velocity events

Investigators: Dr Judith Norris (CI), Professor Lauren Stephenson.

Dr Judith Norris, is the Chief Investigator, currently teaches and researches in the field of educational leadership at Australian Catholic University. She has held various role in schools and school systems, including principal and a senior school system leader. Previous experiences and research around educational leaders making and giving sense to their communities have led to an interest in leaders responding to complex events. It is here that we can learn insights about leaders themselves, which are poignant for others’ learning.

Professor Lauren Stephenson, is the co-investigator and is the Professor of Learning, Teaching and Educational Leadership and former Dean of the School of Education, University of Notre Dame, Sydney Campus. Lauren is an experienced educator and researcher with over 30 years combined in English language teaching (ELT), English as an additional language/dialect (EAL/D), teacher education, educational leadership, research methods, second language acquisition and service learning and a range of educational leadership roles.

What is the project about?

The research project aims to investigate the professional practices of educational leaders in educational communities in response to complex and high velocity events. Such events occur when information is ambiguous and obscure, and when normal approaches no longer work (Salicru, 2018). Australian education in 2020 and 2021, like jurisdictions worldwide, has seen turbulent school environments impacting on the work of students, teachers and educational leaders. Such turbulence calls on educational leaders to be agile and adaptable to co-navigate (ideally) with teachers to stabilise such turbulence and continue to meet the learning needs of children and young people. Educational leaders’ 2020-2021 experiences, through the consequences of COVID-19, offer opportunities for insights about educational leaders’ practices of giving and making sense through these high velocity events.

Who is undertaking the project?

This project, initially conducted by Dr Judith Norris included participants in educational leadership studies within the Faculty of Education and Arts, at Australian Catholic University. Professor Lauren Stephenson extended this research to include post graduate students at University of Notre Dame, Sydney. In October 2022, the project was extended to include leaders in schools and school systems across Australia.

Are there any risks associated with participating in this project?

There are minor risks associated with this project. One minor risk concerns participation in the focus group where your identity and sharing of your experiences will be known to 4 or 5 other participants. Participants will be asked to sign a confidentiality agreement. All recordings from the Focus Group will be deleted and transcriptions will de-identify participants through coding processes and pseudonyms. These will be stored in ACU’s server, password protected by me. The second risk may involve concerns in participants’ recall of critical events, creating unforeseen emotions. To minimise this risk you will be reminded of what you may wish to share or not, acknowledging that such sharing may create discomfort. The following  referral services are available for your support: link to all ACU student services: and out of hours crisis counselling service 1300 638 485 or text 0488 884 191.

Should you wish to opt out before, during or after with your experiences being deleted then this is very acceptable.

What will participants be asked to do?

The commitment from participants involves a 30-45 minute questionnaire with the option to attend a focus group (one hour).

The nature of the questions in the questionnaire will:

  • situate the event(s) that you have experienced;
  • recall the event(s);
  • how you or others made sense of the event(s), such as being recalling similar events or taking gambits;
  • how you or others gave sense to the community, such as telling stories, providing  metaphors.
  • your learning about leadership and;
  • your overall perceived levels of success in how the event was managed.

Some questions that will be asked for example are as follows: Over the last 18 months what events have been difficult for you as a leader in your community? What was involved? What made it difficult? How did you make sense of what was happening? What actions did you take? How did you help the community make sense of what was happening? How did you know you were effective (or not)? If you had this time again would you approach the process differently?

Protocol of the Focus Group:

Should you wish to participate in a focus group they  will be held at a mutually convenient time through a Zoom meeting invitation. Within each focus group there will be no more than 6 participants.  Participants will not be asked to identify their geographical region, school system or school, nor their position in their school. The event(s) has been described in the questionnaire. The researcher  is interested in the participants’ processes of sensemaking and sensegiving.

Given the nature of questions being asked (see below) and events explored, other participants may know you and your school community and/or school system. As such participants are reminded of the following:

  1. Being mindful of the information they are sharing, ensuring as much as possible that the information does not identify others, school communities or school systems.
  2. Any information that is disclosed is kept confidential by participants at the time and into the future

These requests intend to keep participants safe and also to protect others’ not present.

The focus group questions centred on sensemaking properties about the event(s) will include some of the following:

  • explore the personal identity of the leader;
  • the capabilities of integrating information;
  • the reliance on previous experiences.

The questions centred on sensegiving will:

  • explore the concept of the co construction of meaning making;
  • the strength of the leaders’ sensegiving with the school community members;
  • the moderating factors of sensegiving through the event.

Should the focus group run out of time for a participant to share their experience the researcher will follow up with the participant, individually.

It is anticipated, with your consent, that the focus group will be recorded with audio. Once the recording is transcribed the recording will be deleted. All transcriptions will be undertaken by me and coded through data analysis with pseudonyms being employed in the presentation of findings.

What are the benefits of the research project?

Participants may benefit by having an opportunity to reflect on their leadership experiences from the COVID-19 restrictions. Educational leaders’ 2020-2021 experiences offer opportunities for insights about educational leaders’ practices of giving and making sense through these high velocity events.

Several international research studies regarding educational leaders’ sensemaking (Ganon-Shilon & Schechter, 2019; Wong, 2019) have been conducted, however no widespread studies have been conducted in Australian Catholic schools regarding leaders’ sensemaking or sensegiving practices. An overarching benefit of this study will be localising these previous research studies and to include the possible faith-based dimensions of educational leaders’ making of and giving sense to high velocity events.

One Australian research study found that the low levels of self-efficacy reported by some Australian educational leaders in influencing teaching practices impacted upon their professional practices, compromising their long held professional commitments (Norris, 2017). This current research will be significant as it builds upon this previous study, theorising the influence of a leader’s levels of self-efficacy on their sensegiving practices.

The theoretical premises of sensegiving as a lens to investigate professional practices of leaders is a growing research field (Anderson, 2020; Wong, 2019). This current research using a constructivist grounded theoretical approach aims to extend the theoretical premises of sensegiving, within an educational context, guided by the theoretical premises developed by Kraft, Sparr, & Peus, 2015.

Can participants withdraw from the study?

Participation in this study is completely voluntary. Participants are not under any obligation to participate. If participants agree to participate, they will be informed that they can withdraw from the study at any time without adverse consequences. Whether you choose to participate or not this will not affect your grade. No information of your participation (or not) will be forwarded to any other lecturer in your course. Participants may withdraw from the questionnaire and/or focus groups before during or after (when data have been de-identified and aggregated).

Will anyone else know the results of the project?

Data will be stored at ACU Canberra Campus, password protected, where data will be unidentifiable, through the use of coding. In any publications that follow it will be impossible to identify individuals, schools or school systems. Any element that will identify individuals and/or schools/systems will be omitted, and as such only aggregated information will be published. Pseudonmyms will employed.

Will ACU Executive be able to find out the results of the project?

Once the findings have been validated a summary report will be forwarded to the Executive Deans. The researcher will provide you with a summary report through email.

Who do you contact if you have questions about the project?

The researcher may be contacted at any time about the project: 0491216657

What if you have a complaint or any concerns?

The study has been approved by the Human Research Ethics Committee at Australian Catholic University (approval number ID: 2020 – 247E). If you have any complaints or concerns about the conduct of the project, you may write to the Chair of the Human Research Ethics Committee care of the Office of the Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research).

Chair, HREC

c/o Office of the Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research)

Australian Catholic University

Melbourne Campus

Locked Bag 4115



Any complaint or concern will be treated in confidence and fully investigated. You will be informed of the outcome.

I want to participate! How do I sign up?

Should you wish to participate simply continue in responding to the questions. If at any time through the survey questions you wish to withdraw, simply stop and do not click the submit button. The final question asks whether you would like to participate n a focus group. You may say yes now, knowing that you can withdraw at any time.

A close up of a mans face

Description automatically generated

Yours sincerely,

Dr Judith Norris

Professor Lauren Stephenson

Predicting leaders’ behaviours – the determinant of perceived behavioural control

Theory of Plannned Behaviour (TPB) (Ajzen, 1991)

The third determinant of intention is ‘the degree of perceived behavioural control and refers to the perceived ease or difficulty of performing the behaviour and is assumed to reflect past experiences’ as well as anticipated challenges (Ajzen, 1991, p. 189). However, perceived behavioural control not only influences behaviour indirectly, through intention, but also has been shown to have a direct effect on behaviour (Ajzen & Madden, 1986), as illustrated by the bold black line. Perceived behavioural control is most compatible with Bandura’s (1977) concept of perceived self-efficacy, which concerns the judgements that individuals make in how well they think they can execute courses of action required to deal with future situations (Bandura, 2006).

In the field…

In a leadership context, perceived behavioural control can be described as the leader’s beliefs about whether they can perform the desired action, and how these beliefs influence their behaviour to perform that action (Ajzen & Fishbein, 1980). This relates to a leader’s self-efficacy. The kinds of considerations that can interfere with a leader’s control can concern their belief in their ability, such as an individual factor, or their beliefs about an opportunity, or their beliefs about an organisational factor (Ajzen & Madden, 1986). Ajzen’s understanding of perceived behavioural control can be applied to the existing research findings on principals’ accountability. For instance, in high-stakes accountability regimes, Shipps (2012) found that ECPs believed that their own lack of ability (individual factor) hindered their enactments of mandated accountabilities. These same principals perceived that factors in the community (organisational factors) were an important influence for not attending to their accountability requirements (Shipps, 2012). Ajzen’s understandings of perceived behavioural control can be directly applied to Shipps’s (2012) study, where the principals’ beliefs about their organisational factors influenced their behaviours by not attending to their accountability requirements.

Predicting leaders’ behaviours – Theory of planned behaviour (TPB) (Ajzen, 1995)

The TPB is one of the most widely used theories. It is useful in shedding light on a school leader’s intentions and the way these might influence their behaviours. The theory is credible because empirical studies have shed light on health (Juraskova et al., 2012; Prestwich et al., 2014), corporate (Kautonen, Van Gelderen, & Tornikoski, 2013) and educational issues over the last 25 years (Bezzina, 1989; Dadaczynski & Paulus, 2015; Zolait, 2014).

The TPB is based on the work of Ajzen (Ajzen & Fishbein, 1980; Madden, Ellen, & Ajzen, 1992; Ajzen, 2012). The fundamental proposition of the TPB is that behaviour is influenced by intentions (Ajzen, 2012). The elements of this theory are situated in the Model regarding the likely behaviours in which school leaders may engage when faced with external demands and under certain conditions.

In 1985, social psychologists Icek Ajzen and Martin Fishbein researched the relationship between decision making and action, to understand the key determinants of behaviour (Lunday & Megan, 2004). If behaviour is influenced by intentions (Ajzen, 2012), an individual’s intention is a precursor for their behaviour (Ajzen, 1991b). These intentions are a function of three conceptually independent determinants (Ajzen, 2012): attitude, subjective norm and perceived control (Ajzen, 1991b). These are shown in Figure 1. In varying contexts, these three determinants are the predominant influence on an individual’s intention.

Figure 1: Ajzen’s Theory of Planned Behaviour (Ajzen & Fishbein, 1980)

For more details about each determinant follow the links here:

Determinant of attitude

Determinant of subjective norms

Determinant of perceived behavioral control

Reference list to come

Predicting leaders’ behaviours – the determinant of attitude

Theory of Planned Behaviour

The first determinant is the attitude towards the behaviour and refers to the degree to which a person has a favourable or unfavourable ‘evaluation or appraisal of the behavior in question’ (Ajzen, 1991b, p. 189). Ajzen calls this appraisal ‘outcome evaluation’ (Ajzen & Fishbein, 1980).

Ajzen & Fishbein (1980) outlined a process for the measurement of attitude using the three determinants. The first step was the identification of the person’s beliefs about the behaviour in question, with beliefs representing the information individuals have about objects. The second step was determining the judgement that the individual makes as to whether or not the behaviour is favourable (Ajzen, 1991b).

In the field: Applying the determinant of attitude to leaders’ managing accountability…

Ajzen’s understanding of attitude as a determinant of intention is reflected in Shipps’ (2012) research, whereby principals needed to make decisions whether to rely on external political resources in carrying out their accountability requirements. Principals in Shipps’ research identified that one of the possible consequences of relying on political resources in meeting the accountability expectations may generate conflict among stakeholders. Although the principals may have seen this as being a negative outcome (outcome evaluation), they did not see it as likely to happen (likelihood of outcome). Thus, based on their evaluation and all other things being equal, principals would be likely to rely on external political resources. In this current research, some principals utilised these resources to the advantage of the school.

Conversely, applying the same determinant to the research study by Spillane, Diamond, et al. (2002) could lead to the opposite result. Their research found that principals need to decide whether to adopt a mandated accountability policy. Some principals considered that a possible consequence of adopting mandated policy would be resentment by educators, which they perceived as negative (outcome evaluation) and likely (likelihood of outcome). In this case, it is predicted that the attitude developed would predispose principals to reject the policy as expected by the authority. This is precisely what happened in Spillane’s study, with principals not adopting policies as expected. This application of behavioural beliefs to these two research studies demonstrates the usefulness of Ajzen’s theory in understanding a leader’s evaluation outcomes about accountability and their influence on a leader’s behaviours.


Ajzen, I. (1991). The Theory of Planned Behavior. Organizational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes, 50, 179-211.

Ajzen, I. (Ed.) (2012). The Theory of Planned Behavior (Vol. 1). London: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Ajzen, I., & Fishbein, M. (1980). Prediction of goal-directed behavior: Attitudes, intentions, and perceived behavioral control. Englewood Cliffs: NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Shipps, D. (2012). Empowered Or Beleaguered? Principals’ Accountability Under New York City’s Diverse Provider Regime. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 20(1), 1- 40.

Spillane, J. P., Diamond, J. B., Burch, P., Hallett, T., Jita, L., & Zoltners, J. (2002). Managing in the middle: School leaders and the enactment of accountability policy. Educational Policy, 16(5), 731-762. doi:10.1177/089590402237311

Predicting leaders’ behaviours – the determinant of subjective norms

Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB) (Ajzen, 1991)

The second determinant in the TPB is a social factor, termed a ‘subjective norm’ and ‘refers to the perceived social pressure to perform or not to perform the behavior’ (Ajzen, 1991, p. 189). Often, the social pressure is an individual and Ajzen calls these individuals ‘social referents’ (Ajzen, 2012).

In context of leadership, subjective norms relate to a leader’s perceptions of what they should and should not do in terms of the perceived expectations of others (social referents) (Ajzen & Fishbein, 1980). Subjective norms as a determinant of intention can be demonstrated in Shipps and White’s (2009) study, in which the principals identified their stakeholders as state and district authorities (external) and teachers, students and parents (internal). Ajzen would call the external and internal individuals social referents (Ajzen, 2012). In Shipps and White’s first wave of research (2004–2005), the principals were more likely to comply with the opinions of their internal social referents. In their second wave of research (2007–2008), the same principals were more likely to comply with the opinions of their external social referents. In these two studies, the principals’ perceptions of the expectations of the social referents changed along with their intentions. These changes may have been attributed to the reported stakes at a higher level. School closures and staff deployments were some of the consequences in the jurisdictions where the later study occurred. These changes point to the possibility that principals are more likely to be influenced in their priorities (complying or not complying with particular social referents) according to the level of consequence. Ajzen’s approach to subjective norms helps to clarify the dynamic that may have been at work in these principals’ perceptions of their social referents and the value that they attached to different referents over time. In this way, the value they put on complying with the referent influenced the behaviour of these principals.

Ajzen, I. (1991). The Theory of Planned Behavior. Organizational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes, 50, 179-211.

Ajzen, I. (Ed.) (2012). The Theory of Planned Behavior (Vol. 1). London: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Ajzen, I., & Fishbein, M. (1980). Prediction of goal-directed behavior: Attitudes, intentions, and perceived behavioral control. Englewood Cliffs: NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Shipps, D., & White, M. (2009). A New Politics of the Principalship? Accountability-Driven Change in New York City. Peabody Journal of Education, 84(3), 350-373. doi:10.1080/01619560902973563

Authentic and collaborative leadership: Sensegiving – Revisioning and Energising (Phases 3 and 4)

The Signalling phase may have characteristics such as ambiguity or confusion. In a school context, such characteristics require teaching teams to make sense of what change is being promoted. This third phase of Re-Visioning may hold many sensemaking strategies, from plausible stories to identity fusion. These enacted sensemaking responses are fodder for further sensegiving, where the leader moves to the fourth phase of Energising, and like Signalling, it is an influencing action. However, this Energising phase has more sway or vigour than the first Signalling, because it includes modifications, adjustments to include the target audience’s own sensemaking—or in the school context to include the teaching team’s own sensemaking of the change or event. It is at this stage where the leader demonstrates in their “re-sensegiving” that authentic and collaborative leaders are “at their best”.

Interested in the phases of sensegiving? Check out: Phase 2 Signalling and more detail about the sensegiving phases. I anticipate the sensegiving phases are pertinent for those seeking to be authentic and empowering leaders.

Leaders’ Sensegiving through Signalling

While sense-giving strategies are cognitive acts made by an individual, the sense-giving phases are acts of translation made between individuals (Maitlis & Lawrence , 2007). The intentionality of a sense-giving act is to influence another individual’s thinking to the point of accepting it as their own, or collective (Gioia and Chittpedi, 1991). Phase 1 of sensegiving proposed by Gioia and Chittpedi (1991) is Envisioning. This phase resembles the leader making sense of the events for themselves. Phase 2 termed Signalling, is where the leader’s forms their schema into communicative acts of sensegiving. Such acts are diverse; they could range from storytelling to analogies of past events. These sensegiving acts may inject ambiguity or ‘stir the setting’ in stable environments (Neumann, 1995). It is viewed as a translation act. The leader reminds (signals) the community about their sensemaking.