Do you remember the story of the ugly duckling, and the moment he looks at his reflection in the water to – finally – see who he really is? How often do we stop to take a look at what we reflect as leaders – who we’ve really become over time? It’s a worthwhile experience, not the least because we will certainly learn more about ourselves. That look in the water also reflects the leader others are likely to emulate. It’s worth asking yourself if that’s the leader you’d choose to project to others as a model.
The leadership reflection that beams back at us from a sunlit lake is made up of a multitude of influences that have shaped us.
Without pulling apart the shards of the reflection, it’s hard to tell what, if anything, we might want to alter in the view we want reflected. Let’s pull apart that kaleidoscope of influences that have shaped our leadership persona. Consider this a guide to reflecting on your reflection!
- Values – We are heavily shaped by our foundational values. They root us and form the clear outline of our leadership persona. Ask yourself, “Have my values shifted in any ways in the last ten years?” Look not for the cataclysmic changes, but rather for the insidious willingness to compromise on things you once held dear. Are those mild shifts something you feel thoroughly comfortable about, or slightly itchy? If itchy, what might it reflect about your leadership? If comfortable with a significant change, would others view it as positive about you, or not as positive? Why?
- Experiences – Over time, we build a bank of experiences that alter our leadership presence, style, and even values. What are some of the seminal experiences you’d point to in your career, and how did they help to define who you are as a leader today? Would you put all of them in the positive column, or did some make you a less trusting, or a more micromanaging, or a more cynical leader? How do the experiences in the plus column line up with those in the ‘iffy’ column? What experiences would you like to be exposed to in order to make yourself more the leader you’d like to see in your reflection?
- Culture – We live inside a nested set of cultures – a corporate culture, a community culture, a religious culture, a family culture – and each may have influence on how we present ourselves as leaders. If you’re inclined to be inclusive but live in a corporate culture that values individual decision-making and grew up in a tough mountain Western culture in a family that put a lot of emphasis on going it alone, it’s likely your leadership will reflect more of the do-it-yourself than your inclusiveness might suggest. It’s not that culture can’t be overcome; it just takes a lot more groundwork to assuring you’ve built a lot of trust and set a good rationale for a change.
- Leaders who influenced us – If you worked for the Wolf of Wall Street in your career, chances are you carry with you, like it or not, some valuing of affluence over anything else, a sense of entitlement, and other influences. If you worked for Mother Theresa, not so much. We often don’t stop to assess the outsized influences of those we’ve admired – or even not admired, but followed because they set the expectations. And long after they’re gone from our lives, they live on in how we discharge our own leadership. Making a list of your influencers, what they taught you, and assessing what you want to keep and carry forward vs. what you want to modify is a great exercise in putting our role models in their proper places.
- World affairs – What’s happening in the world can make us more cautious or more risk tolerant. It can make us skeptics or optimists. The tone of the dialogue in the world can set greater politeness and willingness to collaborate, or greater separateness and intolerance. And like it or not, we get carried into that whirlwind. It is worth reflecting on who we really want to be when we rise above the fray of everyday life with all its contradictions. What do you want to project as a leader? It may be nothing like any of what you see in the world right now. And that may be exactly what the world needs – more people like you. What’s the tone and demeanor you want your world to see when they see you?
Once you’ve done this exercise, create a mental picture of who you want to be. The ugly duckling found the reflection of a beautiful swan. Find your swan reflection, and build to it, consciously and intently.
Written by Marge Combe, VMC Consultant
Did you enjoy this article? Please join our email list to receive a bi-weekly blog digest. Know someone else who would like this article? Share it with them using the buttons below: