Is narcissism undermining critical reflection in our business schools?

Leah Tomkins, Eda Ulus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)
86 Downloads (Pure)


In this paper, we connectwith claims that our students are struggling with critical reflection.We propose that hampering critical reflection is a form of narcissism, which we define using Ovid's classical myth. Narcissus' errors highlight the risks of noncritical reflection, involving the deceptions of familiarity and the appropriation ofmeaning. Narcissus' journey from reflection to critical reflection triggers an ethical crisis, but for us, such a journey can be a spur to reflexivity, emphasizing the contingency of our knowledge claims and the ethics of our presence in the world. Woven through our discussion is the theme of power. Narcissus' initially naïve reflection incorporates the power to controlmeaning, and he proves incapable of relinquishing control over others to develop greater control over himself. We call for a softening of the distinctions in the management literature between (individual-psychological) reflection and (relational-political) critical reflection, arguing that our exploration of narcissism reveals the political-in-thepersonal. We present practical suggestions for the classroom, including how to explain critical reflection to students and what pitfalls to avoid when reviewing and giving feedback on the work of others. These ideas have particular applicability to peer-learning approaches, but also have relevance for the teaching and role-modeling of leadership.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)595-606
Number of pages12
JournalAcademy of Management Learning and Education
Issue number4
Early online date26 Aug 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2015


  • critical reflection
  • narcissism
  • powe
  • self-leadership
  • reflexivity
  • peer learning
  • ethics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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