Most top executives see themselves differently than those who work with them. The vast majority of leaders like to believe their associates consider them omnipotent, benevolent and charismatic, not to mention strategic and insightful. Frequently, however, there’s a big leap between perception and reality. Employees and associates many times view this same executive as insipid, selfish and lucky to have the top job.
As a boss, you need to know what your constituents really think of you, even if it’s painful. This is when it’s time to swallow hard and do a self-assessment using a mirror as an important tool, because what you see in your reflection is usually how others view you.
To begin this inventory process, start with some serious due diligence. Ask close friends, associates, your spouse or significant other open-ended questions, urging them to be brutally honest about how others see you. This exercise is typically an eye opener, albeit sometimes demoralizing. If you ask the right questions, however, a pattern will emerge that will help you improve.
Keep good notes from each inquisition. After the interviews are complete, head to the bathroom. No, it’s not because you might get sick; it’s because these rooms typically have very large mirrors in which you can see yourself from a variety of angles, just as others see you. Next, read your notes aloud while you watch your facial expressions. This can be a bit unnerving, but that magic mirror is a great lie detector, allowing you to see if what your recitation of how others described you as is spot on, way off the mark or most likely somewhere in between.
Next is the tough part. Once you have separated fact from fiction about how others see you, it’s time to start practicing being the new and improved you. If you’re considered a clod, it might just be because of your body language, the way you dress or certain annoying habits such as always using the first person instead of the royal we or us. As you continue gazing in the mirror, try changing your facial expressions, word selections, inflections and general demeanor.
Perhaps you’ll quickly see that you spend too much time looking down instead of looking people in the eyes when you’re speaking to them. Maybe you don’t give people your full attention when you’re talking one-on-one, suggesting that they’re boring you, or you don’t really want to hear what they have to say.
With a little effort you can start to change your persona, making this self-evaluation exercise a routine part of your day. A mirror is not just for the narcissistic, putting on makeup or shaving. Instead, it can prove to be a valuable device to continue to hone your theatrical presentation skills, as well as monitor how you are perceived as a top executive and a person. None of us are born leaders; instead it requires a multifaceted skill set that must be nurtured and fine-tuned based on actions, not just perceptions.