Never mind what’s in your wallet, what’s in your mirror? Do others see you as you see yourself?
Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the greatest manager of all? And thus we adapt the wicked old witches adage for self admiration, but it has another adaptation as well. When we teach sales people how to build rapport one of the techniques is Mirroring & Matching. This is a way to create comfort by acting and looking like our prospects and sending positive body language signals. Leaders often adapt the same principal with their teams, does it work? Well…
Since we are playing the double entendre of mirroring let’s start with the common usage. Every leader needs to look in a mirror and self-examine. To be successful we have to find satisfaction with what we see. Not perfection, but not being downed by any warts or flaws we see when we look closely. The better leaders also have two-way mirrors. They not only want to see themselves but they have a trusted opinion behind the looking glass who can honestly reflect what is seen by others. If all they hear is “you’re great,” then either you are god’s gift to leadership or you need a more honest or informed opinion to be of use.
When we look at our reflection we can ask two key leadership questions: 1) What do I know I need and want to get better at? Then, 2) Did I make a real effort to get better at that today? For both parts of the questions it can be that outside view behind the mirror that can most help your perspective. Just like the old witch whose mirror answered with what she wanted to hear many leaders use their success-to-date as validation that they are the fairest in the land. Often leaders get that reinforced by those voices who feel it is best to tell the leader what they want to hear.
In all my leadership and sales coaching I stress that honesty is a key attribute to both professional success and personal happiness that lasts. While beating yourself up over what you see in the mirror is destructive so is failing to see not only what can be done to improve but what effort is being applied. Additionally, it is what others see in that projection, not what they say, that reflects their reality of your leadership or managing attributes.
The other mirroring strategy is often seen with leaders when there is a gap between them and subordinates. They hope to bridge gaps to better informed or better perceived. This can be racial, say a white boss with a mostly minority staff. Generational, the fifty-something boss with an all twenty-something team or even financial with a well-heeled boss and lower pay scale employees. In order to feel less different or in an attempt to be liked leaders try and mirror their staff in language, sentiments, actions or attitudes.
Is there anything less cool than a 50-year-old trying too hard to be ethnically hip, or trying to act young or in touch with the economically challenged? As often as not, while well-intentioned, these actions can be seen as racist, ageist, or elitist. They usually aren’t challenged upon receipt, rather a reputation develops of a behind-your-back label. You may think you are in touch and pretty cool while your team may see your reflection quite the opposite of your hope, despite acknowledging you for your professional abilities.
The reality of trying to mirror a staff that is not like you is that even if you do sound like them, dress like them, act like them or even have the same opinions as them you should not expect them to find it sincere. They have a belief and a comfort with you and us and when there is an obvious attempt to conform it will be seen as trying to hard, at best, and at worse, one of the “isms” every leader dreads being accused of. Parents learn this when they suddenly go from hero to roll your eyes “really” mom or dad when kids turn to teens.
We all need to be ourselves. We all need to avoid what we may think are hip or funny comments that get polite reflex smiles. They don’t make you cool, they make you distant. Whether separations of power are inclusive of race, money, age or any other distinction respect comes to those who are genuine. Beloved bosses demonstrate empathy, understanding and challenge others to be their best while being comfortable with who they are, who they have become and their efforts to keep improving.
The very best bosses look in that mirror and see their reflection with honest and hopeful eyes but they also learn how their image is perceived by others. You may not be loved for being honest to yourself and to others but chances are good you will be respected. If that’s the outcome of your managing then you are doing something right. “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s a respected boss after all?” Get that answer right and you are a true leader.
©2019 MyEureka Solutions LLC. For help with your LEADERSHIP or other BUSINESS THERAPY insights contact or follow Tom @TomFoxTrainer, on LinkedIn or here at www.myeurekasolutions.com/thoughts. His recent book: Business Therapy: Ideas and Inspirations To Help Build Sales, Leadership, Management, and Personal Performance is available on Amazon.