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Mirrors Are Only for Glancing


Michelle Kazary is a life-long hair stylist. (BTW: she does great haircuts!!!) Michele’s salon, as is fitting for a stylist’s salon, has mirrors on the walls and at least a couple of handheld mirrors.  The last time I sat in Michelle’s chair, she made a brief comment about spending so much time in a salon with mirrors. She said “Mirrors are only for glancing.  Nobody should spend too much time looking at themselves.” I heard in the wise tone of her voice the recognition that people in her industry – and the whole body-beautiful movement itself – can easily become vain and narcissistic.

Mirrors are only for glancing

If you read my blog regularly, you will know that I’ve become a huge fan of CrossFit – in the last 3+ years it’s changed my fitness and my life. And, interestingly, there are no mirrors in a CrossFit gym. This lack of mirrors is on purpose. CrossFit leaders know, just like Michelle the hair stylist, that when you look at yourself too much, you risk becoming too self-focused.

Humility and Influence

Those of us who have done any reading or thinking on leadership know the true definition of leadership is not position or superiority – it is simply influence: your ability to have others willingly choose to follow you. Historian and academic John Dickson, at the start of his excellent book, Humilitas: A lost key to Life, Love and Leadership, says this about influence: “My thesis is simple: The most influential and inspiring people are often marked by humility.” In the remaining chapters, he makes a very compelling case that the advent of this truly powerful view of humble leadership began two thousand years ago. It is directly attributed to the growing influence that Christians had in the western world starting shortly after the execution of Jesus Christ as they sought to humbly serve those around them.

Leaders don’t look at themselves too much

We live in a world of “Celebrity Leadership” and “Social Media Influencers.” How many readers did your most recent LinkedIn post get? How many views does your YouTube short get?  Haven’t done a Ted Talk yet – shame on you! All of these self-focused measurements seem to define how important you are.

Yet none of this matters in the long-run. True, sustained leadership is found in the answer to this simple question, “Are people better for the time they’ve spent under your influence?” As leaders, our ability to have others answer this question well requires us to look in the mirror long enough to become the leaders our world needs but not so long that we forget where our eyes should really focus. Self-reflection is needed, but the self-obsession that marks so much of popular thinking in the 21st century is contrary to truly effective leadership.

Jim Collins defined Level Five Leadership as a combination of steely resolve combined with self-effacing humility. The best leaders in his Good-to-Great research didn’t obsess about themselves. Fellow leader – how can you do a better job of glancing in the mirror only long enough to know yourself well, but then focusing beyond the mirror to the world you’ve been called to influence?