The gift of the mirror – self reflection as a learning tool for leaders.

When you walk into most call centre environments you will likely see a small personal mirror on the desk of every phone agent. While it can serve to stroke ones vanity or serve as a personal grooming tool the real purpose of the mirror is to remind people to smile. Your verbal tone is very different when you smile – and when you are on the phone tone is one of the few tools that you have at your disposal to build relationships.

The humble mirror is often also flouted as an insult or rebuke as in “she needs to look in the mirror” meaning that perhaps “she” should be looking at herself for the answers/issues/ problems rather than looking at others around her. While the usage is very different than the call centre example the end result is the same – it is about relationships and human connections.

The mirror serves as an intimate 360 feedback session – a session with our ourselves. Good leadership means different things to different people but at its core most of us agree that is defined by vision, personal integrity, respect and relationships. We may use different words and we may have a few other criteria that we use but on the whole our views are very similar.

As a leader, I like to use my mirror for two purposes.

The first is to assess  “how did I do”? The questions can relate to today, this week, this quarter, this year.

  • Did I share the vision. Have I communicated it well?
  • Have I used my time effectively? Efficiency is only part of the question, the other is am I spending my limited time on the things that matter most?
  • Did I provide and ask for feedback?
  • How have I grown? Did I learn something new?
  • What have I done differently?
  • Did I model our shared values?
  • Have I treated everyone with the respect?
  • Did I earn my salary?

The second is a more focused look into the mirror when dealing with an issue or crisis. The type of questions I have asked include:

  • Could I have done anything to avoid the crisis from happening
  • Did I ask the right questions to understand the root cause of the problem
  • Was my response appropriate for the problem? Did I over react? Under-react? Did my reaction support the vision.
  • What will I do differently next time?
  • Have I cared for the “people” element involved (coaching, supporting, communicating)
  • What did I learn? How do I need to disseminate that learning?

The strength of the mirror is that there is no need to lie or fool anyone. It’s an opportunity to take an honest look at “you”. The fact of the mirror is that it shows all – the good, the bad and the ugly. The gift is that it allows you to learn and grow as a leader. It allows you to develop a true level of self awareness so that perhaps next time the bad and the ugly can be countered in the moment and quite frankly that makes for much nicer conversations with “you”.

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