Friday, September 10, 2010

leading with a mirror

I find that there are many times I complain about how others lead, but often forget to complain about how I lead. I live in a world in which I believe my decisions are (or would be) best - and wonder why other make the decisions they do. I see my actions as heroic - and others' actions as dimwitted. I think that my ability to bring people along is a fine-tuned skill, honed by multiple years of experience - and watch others fail to even communicate with those who are under their care. I look upon my ability to get things done as almost superhuman - and wonder why others seem lost in a paper bag.

Of course, I hope I also have sense enough to know that others feel the same way about themselves - and me. It is our narcissistic tendency to believe the best about ourselves and the worst about others. Somehow the mirror I look into only reflects what I want to see, not what I should be seeing. I often wonder how others have seemed to purchase the same mirror. So what is a leader to do? How can we get and use the right mirror which gives us a true reflection of how we lead?

Perhaps the answer lies in a two fold manner - first, having a mechanism in which to do honest gut checks with ones self; and second in having another person who is constantly checking to make sure the leader is using the correct mirror. Honest gut checks are often difficult to perform. Using a leadership assessment tool is often just a glorified mirror in which I self report about all the great things I am doing and how I believe others see me. Journaling is often no more than a reflection of the great things I do and the lousy things others do. Going off on a retreat and being silent helps reinforce the narcissistic mirror I might already be using. Listening to what others have to say about you often puts followers in a spot in which they will also reinforce the use of the "bad" mirror.

Having another person whom one relies on to give honest feedback can be tricky - should this be a good friend (do you really want your best friend to tell you about the lousy job you are doing)?; should this be a hired coach (why would I pay all that money to have someone tell me how bad I really am)?; should it be one's spouse (do I really need to hear about my faults at the end of the day)?; what about one's supervisor (and when my promotion is on the line, is this really the person I want examining what I fail to do each day)?

So what do we do? I suppose it is a combination of all the above, as well as having the ability to be emotionally honest with one's self and begin by admitting they might be wrong (this could be the start of a "leaders anonymous" group). The other day I walked into a colleague's office, incredibly upset about several decisons that had recently been made. I was ready to charge forward and try to fix the situation (even though it was not my situation to fix). I walked in and said, "I need a gut check" and proceeded to tell him what was going on. Throughout the conversation I kept saying "I might be wrong" and at times he confirmed that yes, I might be wrong - and at other times confirmed that I might be right. My ability to admit I might be wrong - and his counsel - all helped to settle me down and make a better decision.

There is no definite answer here...perhaps the greatest tool one can have to be sure they are using the right mirror is to recognize that in a position of leadership, it is often easier to use the wrong mirror that it is the right one. If I know that...if I remember that...if I recognize the times I tend to use one or the other...if I have someone to help me remember to use the right one...if I force myself to pull out the right mirror on a regular basis...if I am able to look into that mirror and believe what I see and then act on it - perhaps then my leadership can have a stronger and more positive impact on the people I lead and the institution to which I have been called.

So...which mirror have you looked into recently? Are you leading with the wrong mirror - or the right mirror? And what are you doing to be sure you are using the right one on a more regular basis?

1 comment:

Carrie said...

You write about one of the hardest parts of leadership and how to evaluate your leadership. I struggle with this all the time and analyze situations all the time. The mirror and/or the gut-check is a great example that leaders need to constantly look at the situations from another point of view (and especially not their own). It's also hard to find the right person professionally to ask for a gut-check. I'm glad to know that it's a common struggle and if you'd like to start that "leaders anon" group, let me know! I'll be there.