Into the Looking Glass:
Seeing a Clear Reflection
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In his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni reminds us of a simple fact that is painfully obvious in our workplaces, “Human beings are messy, fallible creatures, and when you put enough of us in a room and ask us to work together, problems arise.”
So, how can we expect to achieve the competitive advantage that results from a healthy organizational culture if our firms are filled with Lencioni’s “fallible creatures”? Taking a good hard look in the mirror – at ourselves, at our co-workers and at our leaders – provides an excellent starting point.
“Are we ready to take the challenge of seeing ourselves as others see us?”
- Dr. Karl Kapp
Seeing a clear reflection of ourselves What do you see when you look into the mirror? Is the reflection of yourself that you see in the mirror the same image that others see? Our ability to see a clear reflection begins with the relationship we have with our self, and it serves as the core foundation for all interactions with others, interactions that take place both inside and outside the workplace. To a significant degree, our overall effectiveness depends on our ability to see our actions and behaviors as others perceive them. From our viewpoint, whether others get it right or wrong is less important than the fact that perception becomes the reality upon which others base their actions. It certainly isn’t easy to see ourselves through the eyes of others; the reflection of behaviors we see in the mirror is colored distinctly with our own intentions. And while we judge ourselves based on our intentions, others base their judgments solely on our actions.
To better understand what others see, invite co-workers, friends and loved ones to honestly share their reflections of your attitudes and actions. Remember that in soliciting feedback there is no right and no wrong, only what others observe and use as a basis for developing their opinion. Welcoming the perceptions of others may provide insights that can be used to adjust your performance. Incorporating the viewpoints of others along with your own self-appraisal is an important step in knowing ourselves better so that we can proactively modify behavior in the future. Make a conscious effort to work on your personal flaws while continuing to develop your personal strengths. Repeating this process of appraisal over time builds the ability to view our actions through the mirror that others will use.
Seeing a clearer reflection of others Without hesitancy, we accept the modern management theory of teams. It is assumed that the practice of assembling workgroups of talented individuals, each with a set of diverse skills and abilities, will lead to successful outcomes. We expect the mirror’s reflection of the team to be one of orderliness and efficiency as each team member adds their contribution to the advancement of the organization. Yes, in theory that’s the way teams are intended to work. However, as Lencioni reminds us, anytime we bring a group of people together it’s inevitable that some degree of interpersonal friction will result. Responding to the fact that frequently the toughest part of any job is dealing with the people around you, authors Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster wrote Working With You Is Killing Me. Their book serves as a field guide to recognizing and freeing ourselves from emotional traps in the workplace. Left unresolved, interpersonal friction in the workplace carries a considerable cost. The time spent feeling angry, frustrated or trapped is time that will not be spent moving the business forward.
Crowley and Elster describe the feeling of being caught in an emotionally distressing workplace situation as being “hooked.” How does being “hooked” feel? It’s that strong negative internal response that is triggered by someone or something in the work environment.
Have you ever found yourself “hooked” by any of these workplace situations?
___ Do you have a colleague or boss whose incompetence drives you crazy?
___ Does a certain department’s sloppy way of operating prevent you from doing your job?
___ Is there a coworker, boss or customer who wears on your last nerve?
___ To cope with the stress of your job, do you consume large amounts of food, alcohol, TV or other mind-altering substances?
If you have answered yes to one or more of these questions, Crowley and Elster suggest a four step process to “unhooking” from emotionally upsetting circumstances. The steps include unhooking physically, unhooking mentally, unhooking verbally and unhooking by using a business tool. This process can be best described as resolving interpersonal problems from the inside out because you are the only one who can change the way you feel. Each of us has the ability and the responsibility to contribute to changing the team’s reflection in the mirror from hazy to clear.
Seeing a clear reflection of leadership There is a surprising disconnect between the way we see our leaders and what leaders see when they look into the mirror. Development Dimensions International, a global talent and leadership development firm, recently conducted a research study which asked employees from the U.S. and abroad to reflect on the performance of their leaders. The surprising findings which were released in the publication Lessons for Leaders from the People Who Matter included:
- 1 in 3 employees does not consider their boss to be effective.
- Nearly 40% of employees surveyed felt hurt and demotivated by their boss’ actions.
- Employees dread a difficult conversation with their boss more than getting a credit card bill, paying taxes, or having a cold!
The employees who participated in this study became the mirror reflection of their leaders and reported their leaders to be sorely lacking. If fact, the majority of respondents estimated that they would be 20% - 60% more productive if they were working for their “best-ever leader.” Yet in a similar study, when leaders were asked to rate their own overall leadership skills, the majority (87%) rated themselves as good or excellent. If this study was done in your organization today would the results be similar? Are leaders aware of their reflection and the impact it has on productivity? Are we ready to take the challenge of seeing ourselves as others see us?