Looking in the Mirror

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People often talk and write about the qualities of a great leader – visionary, strategic, authentic, approachable etc etc….. We could go on, but one quality that doesn’t feature very regularly in these lists, is humility!


The ability to admit you’re not always right, you’ve made a mistake, you’re not perfect is in our experience one of the most engaging and inspiring qualities a person can have.  We are, at the end of the day, all human beings and none of us are perfect and no-one knows everything, but by been able to admit this openly it draws people towards you rather than away from you, and that for any leader is absolutely crucial.


In a similar vein, there’s a great Jim Collins book called ‘Good to Great’ where he talks about level four and level five leaders, and the crucial difference between them. He says when things go wrong level four leaders immediately look out of the window for someone to blame – who’s fault was it, who’s mistake etc…. Whereas level five leaders when things go wrong automatically look in the mirror first – what did I do that made that happen, have I not done something I should… Only when things go well do level five leaders look out of the window for someone to congratulate!


We saw this just recently first hand when working with a group of senior leaders who were discussing why a particular initiative had not landed in the way they had hoped. One of the group was keen to pass the blame down the line and referenced that the next layer of management were just not taking the required level of responsibility and action and that was clearly why it wasn’t working (looking out of the window!). However another member of the group began asking themselves and their peers in the room some searching questions about what they had personally done to make this initiative work. In true level five leadership style this particular individual demonstrated great humility by stating that they had in fact done very little to help their team understand the initiative and had simply expected them to get on with it. This powerful statement encouraged the rest of the group to look in the mirror and question their own contributions, without fear of judgement.


If you want you people to be honest about their capabilities, their mistakes and their vulnerabilities then for us it stands to reason you need to show them what good looks like.  Nothing in our experience will do more to encourage them to do the same.  This is in fact one of our golden rules of leadership – ‘if you want someone to demonstrate a behaviour, go there first!’


A leader who has the courage to look in the mirror and then ask his / her team for their help is far more likely to have a team that is willing and able to do the same!


So next time when something goes wrong, which will you do first – are you going to head towards the window, or simply stop and look in the mirror?


Thanks for reading!



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