Your Mirror Moment: Are You Blaming The Customer or Looking In The Mirror?


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How’s your Latin?

Iniquissima haec bellorum condicio est: prospera omnes sibi vindicant, adversa uni imputantur.” Tacitus, Agricola Book 1:27 (written around 98AD). This translates to, “It is the singularly unfair peculiarity of war that the credit of success is claimed by all, while a disaster is attributed to one alone.” which has made its way to the well known phrase “Success has many Fathers. Failure is an orphan.

In my view this is not an ” unfair peculiarity ” but rather a hallmark of a genuine leader.

I have always thought the best job in the world would be a food critic. Imagine not creating a single palatable thing and then having the bravado to be the so called culinary expert. You would get paid to eat well without the ability to recreate the food you just ate. Brilliant! The easiest job would go to the movie critic. The most you have to do is chew and swallow your popcorn whilst sitting on a comfortable chair for around two hours.

Business is very much the same. We are all experts when we are critics. That is because it is a lot easier to point your finger at someone else than turn your finger to your chest and say, “It is my fault.” In part I believe that is because fear is a mechanism that drives blame i.e. I fear losing my job if I am at fault. Hence, taking responsibility when things go wrong is hard. When you are Head of Sales and some within the team miss their numbers, it is so easy to blame the individuals. When you are selling winter coats and it’s a hot sunny day outside it is easy to blame the weather for poor sales.

However, like it or not, a key pillar of leadership is taking responsibility and ownership, whether the outcome is positive or negative. Facing your own failings is critical to accepting responsibility. This is often referred to as your “Mirror Moment”, as in “one looks in the mirror and realizes …..“.

In the business book Classic ‘Good To Great‘, Jim Collins refers to ‘Level 5 Leadership’ and the ‘window and the mirror‘. Level 5 leaders are defined as those that “look out the window to apportion credit to factors outside themselves when things go well. …. At the same time, they look in the mirror to apportion responsibility, never blaming bad luck when things go poorly.”

If you do look in the mirror and realize a) you are to blame and b) you are not too sure how to fix the situation. I have a potential solution. It may not always work but I have found it a good way to start. I advise you to talk to employees on the floor, customer service centre, warehouse etc what they would do to respond to the given issue. You will be, although you really should not be, surprised at how much your employees know. Often much more than you! The combination of admitting you do not know it all and listening to your employees’ views and suggestions may just be the medicine to your business ills. As one of my favourite leaders, Winston Churchill said, ‘”Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.

As initially stated, it is far easier to be a critic than facing your own failings. However taking responsibility through your “Mirror Moment” will be key to your development as a leader. After all it may not be all about you but you would be a good place to start… even if it means admitting you are an orphan.

Craig Padoa
Having been exposed to a multitude of consultancies, spreadsheet jockeys, strategic models and technologies, I subscribe to the quote by Sir Winston Churchill, "However beautiful the strategy, one should occasionally look at the results."


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