Where is our Leadership Mirror

By Stephen Gilliland

Most of us take at least a passing glance in the mirror each morning to make sure we look okay. Many of us spend more than a few minutes looking at our face, our clothes, our hair… making sure we are presentable to the world. And without a mirror this can be a difficult task. I bet I am not the only one to look in a restroom mirror at 4:00 in the afternoon and realize that I have a big piece of kale between my teeth from lunch (it is after all the current super food we are all supposed to be eating!) or that my hair is standing straight up like an Einstein wannabe. We rely on mirrors to show us when we look okay and when some adjustments are necessary.

But where is our leadership mirror? Can you think back to a time when you have said or done something in your organization that was as wrong as a piece of kale in your teeth? What if you hadn’t learned about it? And if you are having trouble recalling a time, is it because you have never messed up or because you don’t have a mirror reflecting your leadership imperfections?

As leaders, we are all imperfect. We all make mistakes. The critical step is to recognize our mistakes and learn from them. To do this, we have to be able to see our leadership selves in a mirror.

Most often our leadership mirrors are the people around us. Perhaps you have an employee who is able (and courageous enough) to point out your leadership kale in the teeth. This is not a person who is constantly telling you what a great job you are doing. I am talking about honest feedback. If you don’t have such a person, I recommend looking at how you react to feedback. What is your body language? Do you have time for people? What do you say when people offer suggestions? Do you follow-up on suggestions and show that the feedback you received made a difference? Often we are inadvertently discouraging honest feedback — clouding our mirror.

To get a truly clear image in our leadership mirror, we need to take the time and energy to show people it is okay to reflect our actions and behavior. We have to make it safe and worthwhile. I encourage you to take time to polish your leadership mirror. An added benefit is that you won’t just see the kale, but you will also see how good you look!


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