The use of mirrors in ballet training has a long history, dating back to the eighteenth century. The idea is that the dancer receives immediate visual feedback and using this audience point of view, is able to efficiently develop technique and style.
In dance the use of mirrors is not without controversy – some worry about the negative impacts, for example, that self-consciousness may inhibit the ability to pay attention to an internal sense of movement. Others worry about the impact of an obsessive focus on body image. As a metaphor for developing leadership performance the idea of a mirror on our performance is also daunting. A relentless focus on truth and taking responsibility for that truth is not an easy commitment. James Garfield, the twentieth President of the United States was profoundly accurate when he stated;
‘The truth will set you free but first it will make you miserable.’
What I distill out of the dancer’s practice is the principle that to develop we need accurate timely feedback. In work and in life we need to find our equivalent of the dancer’s mirror, so that we become accountable for our reflection. One facet of this is making an effort to focus on the questions we need to ask. Getting the question right is often the route to unlocking progress and developing critical self-awareness. Here’s a short list I’ve used myself to help get you started:
- What does the team most need from me?
- What do I need to let go of?
- What are my assumptions?
- What are my blind spots?
- What do I most need feedback on?
- Who can I get the most valuable and accurate feedback from?
- How do I measure and track what I need to be good at? Am I improving?
- What is my biggest most useful contribution to the team? How do I do more of this?
- What the quality and frequency of my feedback to others?
- How do I make myself dispensable and grow other leaders?