Knowing the Known and the Unknown

Reflection (Review) and Reflexivity (Response)

You will recall that we began this portal chapter by outlining the meaning of collective leadership emphasising that the public interest is served at the individual as well as the team, organisation and network levels. In explaining the need to know yourself and know others we said that critical reflection is a process that is crucial to learning. We made the distinction between reflection and reflexivity.

Remember that reflection is about thinking back on our actions (as either individual leaders or collective leadership by looking in the mirror whereas reflexivity looks forward with a view to finding ways in which you/we can proactively question our own processes of thinking in relation to both the situation and the relationships with others. This is looking through the mirror to the future.

Both reflection and reflexivity form the basis of critical reflection which lends itself to reviewing our immediate and past actions as a form of reflection and determining leadership responses reflexively in proposing actions for future and continuous service and organisational improvement. Our Six Intelligent Leadership Questions will prove very helpful in guiding our thinking.

A Framework for the Six Intelligent Leadership Questions

Six Intelligent Leadership Questions

From the Interrogative to an Integrative Purpose

You may have read the introduction to the Selfless Leader at the start of this portal and, in particular, noted that the Six Intelligent Leadership Questions apply throughout the application of our framework and model for collective leadership. The origin and description of each of the questions were illustrated on our landing page. We repeat these below as the six questions form the basis of our understanding of collective leadership generally and the application of our Leadership Quomodo specifically. However, we show here how these six questions derive from the original classical framework of the Eight Latin circumstances and intentions.

In introducing the classic framework we first apply a modern perspective on the utility of this wisdom which – as Surprenant (2004) argued in citing Brooks (2001) – the questions were used in support of classic interrogation of confessants in characterising the sin committed. As Brooks reminds us:

“these questions …” (Quis, cury quomodo, quando (‘Who, what, where, with what manner, when?’)) … “were generally used to drive inquisitorial procedures in ecclesiastical courts” (Brooks, 2001: 185).

Leadership Quomodo showing brain transferring good ideas in a large Letter Q headed 'leadership'

It is likely that the classic interrogative questions would take on more of a negative accusatorial stance rather than an objective means of asking intelligent questions to determine an appropriate style of action to tackle a particular problem. We apply the questions in a more objective and development way!

The eight circumstances or intentions also provide the foundation for six intelligent leadership questions. For the purposes of the three most important of these questions, our Leadership Quomodo asks:

Cur quomodoque ducere possumus, quo fine?®
Why and how can we lead, to what end?

Integrating the Intelligent Leadership Questions


Asking “why?” helps to uncover what leadership acts are required. Some circumstance or happening will show that a leadership challenge exists. It can be something as simple as a decision which needs to be made to change working patterns, something as complex as setting out a plan to restructure an organisation or taking an immediate decision in response to an evolving crisis situation. In all cases, leaders should start with why as It identifies the purpose of carrying out the leadership act. In this regard, we agree with Simon Sinek’s classic work of these same title (Sinek, 2011b). It provides the motivation for the leadership act.

We differ from Sinek in the order in which we ask the remaining questions and, of course, we promote a total of six rather than three questions. Sinek suggests that we start with WHY (purpose), then HOW (values and actions and differentiators), and then WHAT (products and results). We reverse the order of HOW and WHAT.

Sinek argues that the ‘what?’ question is simply about organisations knowing what they do (whether creating products or selling services). We view this question more widely. The classic Latin framework asks three ‘what?’ questions (what means, what act and to what end?). We deal with this in one ‘what?’ question which is captured well by the original ‘to what end?’. Understanding what the end is will help to surface the adaptive leadership challenge and its desired outcome is. This uncovers the intention for the leadership act and what needs to be done.

This is the Leadership Quomodo which needs to take account of both the aim (intention through the why and the to what end questions) and the surrounding contexts (circumstances) in securing the vision (the object) of the leadership challenge. Asking how? draws on the modus operandi of the organisation, the means that need to be applied and the way in which the leadership action will be taken and assessed.


The second stage is to take account of the contexts (circumstances), by asking the remaining three ILQs.

There is likely to be different timescales, particularly in responding to a wicked problem that requires adaptive leadership responses. Short term activities and long-term achievements will both rely on medium term action plans and objectives. Time is often the currency of good leadership. For politicians, this is often a short time frame. For significant decisions, perhaps not extending beyond four years (the electoral cycle) or a matter of weeks or days (or sometimes hours) in dealing with crises.

Place is an important component of the leadership context. It mediates between the external environment (i.e., the political, economic, and social contexts) and the actions taken by leaders in achieving their purpose through programmes. The context of each place will differ as will its population. These diversities need to be considered. As one example, from a UK national perspective, London-centric leadership behaviour is often discussed and occasionally addressed in terms of policy (for example, the ‘levelling up’ rhetoric), but how much importance is given to local needs and priorities alongside national priorities in resolving national problems?

I have great respect for Jim Collins, author of ‘Good to Great’ (Collins, 2001), but I cannot agree with his view that we should first get the right people on the bus before deciding where to drive it. Matching skills to tasks do, of course, have benefits, but we first need to know what it is we want to achieve (the object), why we want to accomplish this (the motivation) and how we are going to do it (the Quomodo). Then we can match the “Who’s” to the tasks and leadership role.

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The Selfless Leader