The Mirror Test


Before leading by example, it’s always helpful to take a look at yourself first.


Kevin McAlpin


New research from a study of 360 degree feedback from 13,400 people shows that managers are missing a few tricks.

The report, by workplace research specialists Shine, showed that they don’t understand the impact their behaviours are having on others, are unable to display behavioural flexibility and are spending less and less time with their direct reports. This suggests that companies, direct reports and the managers themselves are missing out not only on achieving the best they can, but also becoming the best they can.


Understanding yourself

According to John C. Maxwell ‘good relationships are the foundation for achievement’ and that ‘our ability to build and maintain healthy relationships is the single most important factor in how we get along in every area of life’. Many people fall into the trap of taking relationships for granted. And that creates difficulties, but learning more about yourself can change this.

Although it can be difficult to hear, managers need accurate feedback to identify their blind spots. With self-awareness you can see yourself more clearly and accurately, and you know what you truly believe.

Maxwell suggests focusing on five areas:

  1. Self-awareness — develop the ability to ‘size-up’ yourself as well as you do others
  2. Self-image – your image of yourself will help or hinder your ability to build healthy relationships
  3. Self-honesty – be honest about your shortcomings, faults and problems
  4. Self-improvement – adopt a ‘me first’ approach: start by changing yourself before you look to change others
  5. Self-responsibility – taking responsibility for your own thoughts and actions can lead to significant accomplishments.

Who you are affects what you see and the way you see it. Who you are determines how you see others. If you focus on changing yourself and become the kind of person you desire to be, you will begin to view others differently. That will change the way you interact with others and your relationships with them.

The way to change is to look in the mirror. The better you know yourself, the more likely you are to choose the right management role. Managers who are comfortable with themselves and know their own strengths and weaknesses can fill their skills gaps with colleagues who can complement them.

Flexibility and context

As managers develop through multiple experiences, they develop a management and leadership style that works for them. This style is effective as long as the situation or context says the same. But what happens when the context changes?

Managers require flexibility to work effectively and efficiently in constantly changing environments. They need to be open-minded and recognise the validity and benefits of new or differing views, adapting their behaviours and approaches as necessary.

If what you’re doing isn’t working, try something else! Doing something different, rather than trying to think something different is the key to change.

Marshall Goldsmith in his book ‘What got you here won’t get you there’ says “People will do something – including changing their behaviour – only if it can be demonstrated that doing so is in their own best interests as defined by their values”

The style of an effective leader needs to come from an authentic place. This happens when you:

  • Have a high level of self-awareness
  • Are clear about your values
  • Understand your leadership purpose.

Research has shown that the best managers and leaders don’t just have one style of managing and leading, they are skilled at several and have the flexibility to switch between styles when needed.

Daniel Goleman suggests that there are six basic management and leadership styles:

  1. The coercive style — this ‘Do as I say’ approach can be very effective in a turn-around situation
  2. The authoritative style — this is a ‘come with me’ approach with the overall goal stated and freedom for individuals to choose their own means of achieving it.
  3. The affiliative style — this ‘people come first’ style is particularly useful for building team harmony and morale
  4. The democratic style — by giving workers a voice in decisions, democratic leaders build organisational flexibility and responsibility
  5. The pacesetting style — a leader who sets high-performance standards and exemplifies them his or herself has a very positive impact on employees who are self-motivated and competent
  6. The coaching style — this style focuses more on personal development and works well when employees are already aware of their weaknesses

The more styles a manager and leader can master, the better. This avoids taking a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. Skilled leaders choose a style that maximises their effectiveness in a given situation.

Investing in Others

Are you willing to invest in other people? Relationships are like anything else. The return you get depends on what you invest. You cannot neglect a relationship and expect it to grow.

Surrounding yourself with excellent people who are in jobs that are right for them is the first step to success. You also need to ensure that they are comfortable in their roles and understand and are happy with what is expected of them. Spending as much time as is possible getting to know your team. What you are looking for is what Gerry Robinson calls ‘business-intelligent’ and ‘life-intelligent’ people – people who do not feel the need to erect protective barriers around themselves and who relate well to others. You will also need to feel that you can trust them. Trust and faith are fundamental to all working relationships.

People in your team are important. They are not there simply to perform tasks and go home at night. They have chosen to work for you, and that may have involved sacrifices on their part – a long journey to work, complex childcare arrangements, and rejection of another job or promotion elsewhere. Work is an extension of normal interactions between themselves and others and you cannot expect them to leave the rest of their lives at the door when they arrive each morning. Spending time with direct reports is a vital part of managing.

The key activities of effective managers:

  • Build relationships of trust
  • Set the vision, clear goals and standards
  • Give clear feedback
  • Make decisions
  • Communication – give information, listen and ask questions
  • Support, develop and coach direct reports to achieve
  • Nurture talent
  • Develop the team
  • Celebrate success
  • Deal with conflict
  • Have courageous conversations regarding performance and behaviour
  • Be consistent
  • Be a role model
  • Ask for feedback on how you are managing.


Three Points of Reference

Research has shown that to be an effective manager and leader it is important to:

  • Understand the impact behaviours are having on others
  • Display behavioural flexibility, and
  • Spend time with direct reports

To ensure that managers and leaders are equipped to succeed in their roles organisations will need to focus on developing and supporting managers to develop these skills.

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