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StrategyJul 18, 2012

Mirror Mirror on the Wall

Deana Self

Employees are the mirrors in which every leader sees their reflection …

Recently I read an article on mirror neurons and their role within the brain. As I read through the article, I thought of the mirror neuron effect leaders have on their organizations, impacting the actions, reactions, and values those that follow them may hold.

Nerd Alert! For those of you who don’t know, mirror neurons are most associated with Giacomo Rizzolatti’s scientific studies regarding our ability to discern intent. Essentially, as you watch someone else doing something or about to act, the corresponding mirror neuron might fire in your brain, thereby allowing you to understand another’s intentions.

A few months ago, I experienced a career change into Management Consulting after years of system development, design, and project management. As I look back at previous organizations, I see a trend in how people follow, and sometimes mirror, the actions of their leaders, whether good or bad. In my new position, surrounded by some of the best leaders I have experienced in my career, I am seeking to chase after the leader I am now challenged to become. I am no expert, but I am learning to glean insight from some of those surrounding me. Therefore, I’d like to share some recent insights on what I see my mirror neurons picking up.

1. Value your words

The merit of what is stated can make or break an intended action, relationship, or opportunity. Since the average individual is said to only pay attention to you for 22 seconds*, and within the first 7 have already decided their initial impression, choose what is said and how it is said wisely. Yes, I did say “seconds” in the metrics above… few yet valuable words often resonate better with those listening.

2. Listen up!

It’s in my nature to speak during conversational voids, to over explain, to anticipate too often, or be thinking of what to say while someone else is talking. But by doing so, I run the risk of missing what is actually being said, which is usually really important to that person. While my thoughts may add some value to the conversation, why not consider the idea that everyone around me could be smarter, know more, and be a potential expert!

3. Prioritize what you choose to think and say

Hitting the “big stuff” first can create a greater success rate right from the start. If levels of importance are identified and a storyboard generated for the situation, problem, or activity, the race is already being won. Prioritization and organization of thoughts also enhance the ability to be well understood, considerate of others time and resources, and get to the finish line with great success and ease.

4. Practice what you preach

Two parts of the phrase should be considered; one being the cliché that you yourself should do the things you advise other people to do. To me, it’s simple: mean what you say and do what you say. Now, this phrase also comes with a second more literal meaning…practice what you want to say, how you want to say it, as well as how you want it to be understood. With practice there is no guarantee every scenario or situation that could come up has been explored, but at least a surprise will not trump what you hope to accomplish in conversation. Also, with practice, there is an opportunity to find ‘the holes’ in your thinking before someone else does for you.

5. Now, keep listening and practice it!

Wait, practice listening? Yes, practice listening. Some suggest listening is a lost art, but to be successful with any relationship important to you, it has to be one of your best attributes! 45-50% of the average person’s day is spent listening, yet a few hours later one only retains about 10-20% of what was heard. Considering the amount of time I have prepared to speak or present, I do not know that I have really ever “prepared” to listen. Understanding what is actually being said enhances the ability to support, grow, and truly know how best you can serve and support another … no matter what level of the organization you reside.

While the things I am learning and re-learning are not brand new schools of thought, they are important to remember as you consider that you, as leaders, are being watched and observed and your actions are being mirrored. If someone can observe how and why actions and values are lived out or even lived differently from what they may have previously known, why not show them?

Looking at your organization or your team is like looking in the mirror; the reflection is of you. In consideration of that, I challenge you, as a reader and leader, to look at what is being mirrored of you or your fellow leaders. If your employees are the mirrors in which you see your reflection, have you acknowledged what their mirror neurons are showing you?

*The Sacred Art of Listening. Kay Lindahl, 2009, TheListeningCenter@yahoo.com www.sacredlistening.com