Thoughtful Partners: Articles

Mirrors

About 25 years ago I took on the leadership of my first business unit. It only numbered about 50 people, but it was a strategic investment for the company. We were based in Atlanta; my boss was based in London and all my customers at the time were in South America. Every month, I travelled to London and went on one or two longer trips to multiple cities in Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina, Colombia, etc. I was busy, important and doing a good job, or so I thought. Our people were willing to work in difficult, and sometimes dangerous, locations. The office was relatively young, and all seemed to get on well together socially.

I was very much into reading various self-help books and decided I should create a survey to gather feedback on my performance – essentially a custom developed 360° less feedback from the European leadership. I was expecting a few softball suggestions along with respectful praise. What I received changed my life, both professionally and personally. My people did not see me as the great young leader I saw in my mirror. The details are not important for this story other than to say the “mirror” provided by the survey was far more insightful, and valuable (though painful), than the façade in my bathroom mirror.

Since then I have come to understand we learn most about ourselves by continually aggregating a series of mirrors viewed over time. Although the survey was my first conscious view of a mirror into me-the-person other mirrors are regularly available to me:

  • Any interaction with another person causes one or more reactions, sometimes unintended and/or unexpected
  • Observing others interact, and contrasting with myself, allows me to learn new good habits and avoid those causing negative impact
  • Accessing a variety of media that initiate self-reflection e.g. a YouTube video by Simon Sinek, or an exhortation by Pope Francis
  • Reading the thoughts of the wise e.g. C.S. Lewis’ definition of humility; “…is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less”, and then extrapolating on how this might impact the way you communicate with others.

Eventually, this aggregation of mirrors develops self-awareness of the whole person; the foundation for the continual development of any human being. It is as if we truly come into focus as we gaze at a multi-dimensional mirror.

As we enter 2018 here are some suggestions on utilizing these mirrors in a more conscious manner:

  1. At the end of each day, review at least 3 interactions, including one outside of work. What did I learn about myself from the reactions of those with whom I communicated? What could I have done differently for better results?
  2. Partner with a colleague, or two, to agree to provide each other candid feedback on how you are coming across in various interactions
  3. Consider working with a coach who has very strong self-awareness and can also administer annual 360° feedback
  4. Before entering any meeting, remind yourself of the main behaviors you are trying to improve.

May you see yourself most clearly in 2018 and become the best you can be.

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