Last week about arrogance versus confidence.  After having been accused of being arrogant, I had to start to to develop a leadership approach that I felt was more in line with how I wanted to lead and have my leadership perceived.  I began reading books about leadership, and was especially fascinated by the works from Jim Collins.  In his book “Good to Great” he writes about The Window and the Mirror Leadership Model.

The Window and the Mirror Leadership Model

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The Window and the Mirror

In a nutshell, according to this model, all leaders have a window and a mirror.  Leaders whose companies seem to never make the transition from good to great are leaders who look in the mirror to find the cause for success or progress.  They lookout the window to find the reasons for failures or lack of progress.  These leaders believe, or at least through their communication with others indicate that they believe that their personality, decisions, models, connections, and leadership ability or talent is the reason for all progress and gains.  When things do not go well, it is always other people’s lack of motivation, poor follow through from others, a downturn in the market, or some other element outside of the leader’s control that is responsible.

Leaders who help their organization become a top organization have the exact opposite approach.  ” [They] look out the window to apportion credit to factors outside themselves when things go well (and if they cannot find a specific person or event to give credit to, they credit good luck). At the same time, they look in the mirror to apportion responsibility, never blaming bad luck when things go poorly.” (Jim Collins)

People in any organization, from volunteer-based organizations like the church to Fortune 500 companies, do not like working for a leader who takes all the credit and never assumes the blame.  The perception is not just that the leader is arrogant.  The team members also feel that their contributions are overlooked and that they are expendable.  When they leave, they may grieve leaving a successful organization – and may even miss working for a brilliant, visionary leader.  Very little, however, can convince a team-mate to stay simply to help increase the reputation of an egotistical leader.

My Journey

After reading Collin’s book, I had to first evaluate how I used the metaphorical window and mirror in the leadership position I had in the church.  It started with a series of questions, the first of which were:

–  When things go badly, who do I blame?

– When things go well, who do I acknowledge?

I realized that I often had a problem recognizing my own contributions to the problems.  It was much easier to blame misunderstandings, rapid turnover in key positions, lack of people wanting to take on leadership, changes in society/expectations, a downturn in the economy, etc.  As the leader, however, it was my job to make sure that misunderstandings were minimized (“The message heard IS the message.”)  Rapid turnover was not necessarily a commitment problem, but was often also a lack of shared vision problem.  The leader’s job is to train people to be leaders, and to anticipate and plan for changes in society, the economy, etc.  I had to learn that while I may not always be directly responsible for the problem, I am responsible for leading through the problem.  As the leader, I should never point fingers at others – the reality is that the responsibility is mine.

I also had trouble fully acknowledging the contributions from others.  I felt that I tried to acknowledge others, but after learning about the window and the mirror I realized that my acknowledgments of the contributions of others were both too little, and too self-serving.  I was not truly wanting others to get the majority of the credit.  I  fed off of acknowledgment and recognition, and often gave compliments with the expectation that I would receive compliments in return.

Where did I want to go?

I had to personally decide where I was going as a leader.  What did I want to be a part of creating?  What did I want the end result to be?  Did I want to create a cult of personality that would only last as long as I did?  Or did I want to create a resume (a stepping stone for me to advance further), or a personal brand?  Those would last longer than my stay at one location – but still shorter than something I really wanted to be a part of.

I could have also chosen to attempt to protect the organization that already existed.  Was my hope to maintain what was there? Or did I want to truly lead – and invest my time and energy into making something that was already good even better, maybe even great?  Did I see my own work and the work of the church I was a part of  as something larger than just our existing reputation?  And who did I want to ultimately get credit for any future success?  And what did that mean I needed to do about my own ambition?

Learning to change focus.

I have found one of the dangers about talking about arrogance, or about trying to apply the Window and the Leader Leadership model is that the impression can be given that the leader becomes a person without ambition or ego who is simply occupying a position of leadership and hoping for the best.

As Collins says, “It’s not that Level 5 leaders have no ego or self-interest. Indeed, they are incredibly ambitious—but their ambition is first and foremost for the institution and its greatness, not for themselves.”  (Read here for a more in depth look)

The issue is really one of focus.  Are you enamored with being a celebrity CEO (or pastor, or team leader), or is your passion that your organization is healthy, strong, and effective?  If you want a healthy organization, find and develop healthy people, and praise them to the moon and back. Whenever something goes well, give them every ounce of credit they deserve.  Celebrate their successes, both publicly and privately.  Praise them in front of others, but also take the time to thank them personally for the contributions and sacrifices they have made.  Choose to believe and communicate that the organization is only where it is because of the people investing into it.

And when things go wrong, take the responsibility and invest your time and energy into finding a solution.  Even if someone else is at fault, rather than focusing time on the negative work of assigning blame, invest positively in helping find a way to grow through the problem.  Choose to look in the mirror and discover which percentage of the responsibility for the problem belongs to you as the leader (if your answer is 0%, your are not looking close enough) and then get to work finding a solution.

The Window and the Mirror Leadership model has been instrumental in helping me grow as a leader and address my blind spots.  I hope it is helpful for you as well!

For more reading, be sure to check out Jim Collins books.