The Power of Reframing

2 photos of red tulip fields from different perspectives

              Our key to transforming anything lies in our ability to reframe it.
                                                     –  Marianne Willamson

Say goodbye, and perhaps for many of us, good riddance to 2021; a brand-new year lies before us. For me, this past year resembled the 1993 movie Ground Hog Day. I planned, and the universe laughed. Apparently, I can be hilarious. As an individual who enjoys reflecting on the past year and setting goals for the new one, 2021 was determined to, at least metaphorically speaking, not only knock me off my game but walk me entirely out of the arena. As I was preparing to throw up my hands, wallow in my frustration and generally settle into what (I thought anyway) was a well-earned depression, a mentor gently reminded me about the power of reframing. 

Reframing has been defined as changing the conceptual viewpoint about how a situation is experienced (Robson & Troutman-Jordan, 2014). Each of us uniquely sees the world around us. Our values, beliefs and life experiences shape how we ultimately interpret the world. Rather like how a photographer can dramatically alter the appearance of their image simply by reframing the subject within their field of vision, we humans have the same ability to reframe our perceptions of the world around us.

In essence, reframing is the ability to look at a situation, problem, or event differently than how we usually would. We choose to create the mental models or cognitive road maps we use to make sense of the world around us. And let us be honest, everyone needs a good map to navigate an increasingly complex world. However, problems can occur if we become stuck or develop an over-reliance on one or two maps. Have you ever tried to drive to a location you routinely go to, only to find a police officer directing you onto a different road? Did you have a moment of panic as you tried to reconfigure your mental map to arrive at your destination? Reframing is the skill of quickly shifting between multiple maps to see things from different angles, ignite creativity, imagination, and ultimately produce new solutions.

The skill of reframing is used widely in various areas, including personal reflection, coaching, therapy, and organizational leadership. In their book Reframing Organizations Bolman and Deal (2017) provide an approach for leaders to look at an organizational challenge or opportunity through four different perspectives and then intentionally ‘reframe’ it to generate effective strategies to address it. As leaders, we are just as likely to become trapped in organizational mental models and cognitive maps as we are in our own lives. The four frames help leaders see into the other frames to create better solutions.

Here is a brief overview of Bolman and Deal’s (2017) four organizational frames from a leadership perspective.

The structural frame – problems may arise when the structure does not fit the situation. Here, the leader’s role is to act as an architect or analyst. In this frame, the emphasis is on finding the right design for the task at hand. Leaders who prefer this frame often prioritize efficiency, goals, metrics, quality, and excellence.

The human resource frame – leaders who prioritize this frame are concerned about creating a caring and empowering environment for people. It is all about offering support for people to do their very best.

The political frame – while no one likes to talk politics (or admit that they do), the reality is once you have a team of humans working towards a goal, there will be time constraints, limited budgets, and no lack of differing opinions. Leaders who enjoy and thrive in the political frame tend to see the organization through competition, compromise, bargaining, and power struggles.

The symbolic frame – is where visionary leaders like to hang out. They will view their organizations as more serendipitous than linear. Leaders who focus on the symbolic frame are the storytellers and meaning-makers and work on building significance around what they are doing. 

Although brief, this summary highlights the importance of examining complex situations through all four frames regardless of our personal preference. Each provides a unique perspective, identifying potential blind spots and increasing the leader’s ability to interpret complex issues accurately.

How will you choose to see 2022? Changing your perspective changes everything.


Bolman, L. G., & Deal, T. E. (2017). Reframing organizations: artistry, choice, and leadership (6th ed.). John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated.

Robson Jr, J. P., & Troutman-Jordan, M. (2014). A concept analysis of cognitive reframing. Journal of Theory Construction & Testing18(2).

Photos by Bonnie Moreland and Daria Nepriakhina on Stocksnap