A reflexive tool:  School leaders managing high velocity events

A leader creates human/social alternities by telling a compelling story about what is about will be, about what should be or about what should (or could) be done, about one or the other’(p.259)… It is the leader’s stories that mediate for all those who would follow, an alternative way of being, doing, knowing, having or saying in the world (Thayer, 1988, p. 260)

This reflexive tool draws on the possible stories you have told or your observations of other leaders in helping communities come to terms with complex situations. The purpose of this reflexive tool is to enable school leaders and aspirant leaders to reflect upon an event, experience or episode that holds, or has held, contradictions or complexities. Salicru (2018) describes events such as these as high velocity. This is an event or episode that holds ambiguity or contradictions, where your normal, routine approaches no longer work. Below are a set of questions with several theoretical platforms: sensemaking (Weick, 1995), sensegiving (Gioia & Chittipeddi, 1991) and the Theory of Planned Behaviour (Ajzen, 1991). Reflecting on these questions could help the leader make sense of and make decisions about how to move forward in response to the event. Click on the conceptual link at the end of each question. The link leads you to the theoretical premise of the concept.

Q1: Describe the event/episode or experience you wish to explore (keep it brief, I suggest no more than 50 words).

Questions 2 – 8 refer to the strategies leaders use to make sense of events for themselves. They are cognitive acts (sensemaking).

Q2: What support from the groups in your school community would you have/or did have in your anticipated response(s) to the event(s)/experience(s)? How relevant are the responses/ will the responses be for the community? (Social context)

Q3: What enhancements or threats could there be to your own sense of self as a leader in the event(s)/experience(s)? (Personal identity)

Q4: How has/have your past experience(s) influenced you in making sense of the current event(s)/experience(s)? (Retrospect)

Q5. What cues could help/helped you shore up your initial hunch(es)? Were there any contradictions or confusions from the cues as events unfolded on in the event(s)/experience(s)? (Salient cues)

Q6: How would it be/was it possible to place some boundaries around the event(s)/experience(s) to keep pace with the flow? If not, what may have prevented you from doing so? (Ongoing projects).

Q7: What stories or metaphors would help/ have helped you explain the event(s)/experience(s)? (Plausibility)

Q8: What kind of statements or declarations could you make or have made to ‘test the waters’ to see if your explanations of the event(s)/experience(s) were suitable? (Enactment)

Questions 9 – 11 ask about the strategies leaders adopt when enacting their sensemaking, called sensegiving.

Q9: After you have made sense of (envisioning) what is/was happening for yourself, how do/did you convey this sense with the community? Story telling? Using metaphors? Allegories? Drawing on the past? Persuasive acts, i.e. mantras “We’ve got this!”‘ (Signalling)

Q10: In response to the your signalling what signs were the community members giving to demonstrate they were engaging in their own sensemaking?? (Re-Visioning)

Q11: Did you incorporate or adjust the community member’s sensgving inot your own sensemaking? If so what did you do? did you articualte this th the community? If so what was you understanding in how the community responses to this last phase? (Energising)

Questions 12 -14 are based on the Theory of Planned Behaviour (Ajzen, 1991), with Question 15 being an invitation to action.

Q12: In your judgments, how favourable (or unfavourable) are your possible actions? You may wish to write down the possible actions and notate which ones would be favourable to you and which ones would not (Attitude)

Q13: Whom will you consider or need to consider when deciding to act? (Subjective norm)

Q14: With what ease or difficulty do you perceive your abilities to carry out your desired action? What past experiences influence your intentions? What are your anticipated challenges will influence your intentions? (Perceived behavioural control)

Q15: Review your responses. Enter into a reflexive mode of cognition.

Step 1: What feelings or thoughts come to mind about your responses (observing your own observing).

Step 2: You are invited to construct a model/framework that maps how you would act or how you acted as a leader in this situation. If this was a past event, ask yourself, what would you do differently now knowing the impact of these three processes? What declarations could you make as a leader for future complex or contradictory situations?


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

Gioia, D. A., & Chittipeddi, K. (1991). Sensemaking and sensegiving in strategic change initiation. Strategic Management Journal, 12(6), 433-448.

Thayer, L. (1988). Leadership/communication: A critical review and a modest proposal. In G. M. Goldhaber & G. A. Barnett (Eds.), Handbook of organizational communication, (pp. 231–263). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Salicru, S. (2018). Storytelling as a leadership practice for sensemaking to drive change in times of turbulence and high velocity. Journal of Leadership, Accountability and Ethics, 15(2).

Weick, K. (1995). Sense-making in Organizations. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.