Oh, behave! How taking a look in the mirror can help leadership performance.

When we don’t feel at our best, we are likely not performing at our best. But rather than address performance as the sickness, it’s merely the symptom. What underpins performance is the much broader realm of behaviour.

How are you? Really. When was the last time someone asked you about your welfare in a meaningful way? More importantly, how would you respond? When it comes to your role as a leader, many people, even high performers, are feeling exhausted at the pace of change they’re dealing with. From changing customer expectations and emerging technology to the obvious changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. As we well know, our feelings influence our behaviours, and ultimately, our performance.

Along with identities and leadership, behaviours are a fundamental aspect of the Exigence model for coaching, leading to sustainable impacts. Behaviours, individual and collective, that support success is a complex topic. This post is a primer to get you thinking about your behaviour as a leader. Particularly in the current context of the immense pressure on businesses during the pandemic, and on individuals whose work lives have been drastically altered through remote working arrangements, restructures, shifting business goals, and not to mention the ever-present personal and family stressors.

To lead others, lead yourself

Do a Google search for morning routine or a similar phrase, and you’ll be buried under a deluge of articles about how high performers in any given field start their day. The hacks. The exercise regimen. The diet wonder-products. Apparently, being successful starts with what you do the moment you open your eyes. The unfortunate downside to this celebrity-secrets approach to personal development is that it trivialises a significant issue: Leaders need to lead themselves effectively to lead others effectively.

You are the vehicle for your leadership.

Far too many leaders, entrepreneurs and business owners fail to embrace their role as a leader and get stuck in perpetual “delivery mode”. There are many reasons for this, but perhaps the most significant change you can make to enable yourself to be less “busy” and improve your leadership skills, is to frame leadership as your top priority. Your to-do list should be populated with leadership activity, not output activity.

Leadership activity starts with personal development.

As a result of the research for our book, Leader iD, we developed a model that puts you at the centre. The person you are – your very self. Then comes the skills you display as a leader. Put the two together, and you have performance. There is more to this, which we’ll explain in future posts, but the takeaway message here is that that more developed a leader is as a person, the more sophisticated the leadership they can demonstrate.

So, who are you?

You look in the mirror every day to check your outward appearance before stepping out the door or logging in to a videoconference. In fact, many of us would be aghast at the thought of not checking our appearance. We can take a similar approach to personal development through regular and meaningful reflection.


Reflection is critical, and we can relate it to making your life meaningful. People who don’t reflect and don’t examine their life cannot see their lives as meaningful. Their life becomes mechanical when they don’t try to develop their self-awareness, self-understanding, self-knowledge. That’s where the meaning is created. Reflection needs space, and when people don’t make the space for reflection, including thought-provoking questions, it becomes a self-limiting way of being for leaders as it stunts development.

Reflection also opens up the possibility of identifying one key trait, a trait that cannot be undervalued in the current economic and social landscape. Do we respond, or do we react? Responding rather than reacting is a key trait of great performers. The space between stimulus (input) and a resulting action (output) is where the best performers gain a critical advantage over those who simply react.

To respond is to take the time, however brief that may be, assess the options and choose the action we take.

To respond is a habit built through practice, and that starts with identifying the moments where our actions did not align with our values or personal expectations. The rough guide to reflective practice goes like this:

  • What was the situation? Describe it. Facts only. No value judgements.
  • How did I react? Again, facts only, even if those are hard to swallow.
  • What would I do differently next time? If you could respond rather than react, what would you choose to do?
  • How can I get there? What development activity or education do I need to do to shift my reaction?

Reflection helps identify behaviours we can alter or amplify through development activities, including coaching. Ongoing development of your “self” is key to leading yourself and others successfully towards a meaningful and fulfilled life inside and outside of work.

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