Mirrors and Windows

Woman Standing By Bedroom Window And Opening Curtains

Recently I was flipping through the channels on television and ran across a makeover show. The episode started with an individual dressed in (my opinion) outlandish attire who described the image she thought she portrayed. The host then showed a picture of the person to a series of individuals on the street and asked their impression. No surprise, the observations of others were much different than the individual’s perception of themselves.

It’s easy to look at someone else and chuckle at their apparent lack of self-awareness of how they come across . . . but what about you? When it comes to perceptions of your leadership style, do you spend more time looking in the mirror, thinking it’s a clear reflection, or do you open the window to feedback from others on how they see you as a leader.

We all have blind spots. Not intentionally, of course, but we know what we intend to portray and that is the frame of reference we start from in “seeing” ourselves. It is our mirror, and it usually reflects back what we are looking to see. Windows, now, are a different thing entirely. They don’t reflect, rather they are designed to let you see through, and the view can be totally different. I remember a time when members of my leadership team took a behavioral assessment, and each person’s “results” were shared with the entire team. In discussing the assessments, I made the comment that I thought most of mine was on the mark except one specific aspect that didn’t seem accurate. Almost in unison, my team responded, “Yes it does!” Hmmm . . . that was an unexpected but enlightening view from the window. Guess my mirror wasn’t entirely clear after all.

The tricky part about getting a clear view from the window is that people have to feel safe enough to share their perceptions of your leadership. If everyone reflects back to you the exact image you have of yourself, it’s possible that they are cautiously holding up a mirror rather than opening up a window that might let in a bit of fresh air. How can you tell the difference? Ask the right person. Come on, you know who will tell you want you want to hear and who, if truly given permission, will honestly share what they see.

The goal, of course is for the view to be the same whether reflected the mirror, or seen through the window. The best way to accomplish that? Start with the window.