Leaders are often asked to consider a famous metaphor – that of “looking into the mirror,” to evaluate honestly and objectively their strengths and challenges, and to better find their growth paths as professionals. This self-assessment can help executives evaluate their impact on others as well as give them useful direction on their own self-development and future direction. However, honestly evaluating oneself is no easy task; when objectivity and balance are often hard to come by. One role that I’ve played as a CEO and executive coach, is acting as the “mirror that doesn’t always smile back.” In providing candid, unfiltered honesty to the leader, a mentor or coach can be invaluable in helping leaders see themselves as they are (or at least as they are perceived) as opposed to what their own self-image may be.
Leaders Use Mirrors To Grow
We all have our imperfections — we don’t need to self-evaluate to count all of our weaknesses. We perform these necessary self-assessments to see what we can change about ourselves to be better as leaders, family members, and professionals. Life is about how we build on our experiences to grow, to be more fulfilled, and to bring happiness to ourselves and to others – and an honest “reflection” can help each of us do just that.
Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great,” uses a metaphor of windows and mirrors. “Great leaders,” Collins says, “look through the window when things go well” — that is, they look at the team and give them credit. When things go poorly, great leaders look in the mirror: they evaluate themselves and take responsibility for what went wrong, so that they can fix it next time. Sadly, weak leaders do the reverse. They take credit and engage in self-aggrandizement when things are rosy, and blame their team or others when things jump off the tracks. An ego-driven leader may be blinded by self-importance and constructive criticism. That leader’s team may become disengaged and unappreciated, leading to defections, resentment, and failure to grow.
How to Objectively Evaluate Yourself
As a “mirror that doesn’t always smile back,” my primary role is to be a truth teller. When they look to me as a “mirror” to assess themselves or the issues they bring to our peer group meetings or me, I need to tell it like it is — honestly, objectively, and independently of their subjective wants or needs.
The problem with looking in a mirror or performing an introspective self-evaluation, is that it’s difficult to judge oneself in a completely unbiased way. Just as physically you will never see yourself as others see you, so too can it be difficult to grade how your actions affect others and how your attitude is perceived by others.
World-class athletes all have personal coaches. The best at their sports realize that an experienced professional can identify with clarity the things that they are doing really well and need to continue, and they a pick out minor changes that may be causing major performance challenges. The independent, perceptive, and effective communicator as a professional coach, mentor, or advisor will supercharge our personal development and growth as a leader.
A Mentor’s Role: “Reflecting” The Honest Truth
A really good mentor enjoys being the “mirror that does not always smile back”. By helping people see themselves as they really are —they are energizing them to become the person and leader that they have the potential to be. Third-party opinions from respected advisors will help us gain unbiased and fair perspectives of our own strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities. It provides us a clear roadmap to self-improvement and growth.
In your own life, I encourage you look into the metaphorical leadership mirror daily: take stock of your actions and attitudes, and try to find a balance as you evaluate the day’s successes and failures. The “mirror” helps us to commit to continuous personal growth – starting from a foundation of accurately understanding ourselves and clearly seeing where and how we can improve.