Guest Blogger – Mirror or Window Leadership?

It seems that some leaders just think about themselves. Maybe you’ve experienced a leader who seemed to care very little about you; his or her behavior was inconvenient, annoying, unprofessional or even unethical. Think about this: Who was that leader serving? The person in the mirror, or someone else?

When you go through a typical day, is your personal leadership like looking in a mirror all day—constantly concerned with yourself, looking out for your best interest above others’? Or, are you looking out a “window” to focus on others? Does your personal leadership keep bringing you back to self-preservation and self-promotion? Or, does it help you think about ways to address others’ needs and concerns?    

I think you know where I’m going with this! The best leaders are “window” leaders. Their eyes are consistently looking outward to others, caring for them and serving them. As leadership expert Max de Pree said, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.”

Be others-focused rather than self-focused, and you can experience the synergy of people working together well, united in purpose, and producing great results. Dean, professor, and professional leadership consultant Bruce Winston put it this way: “Employees and followers want leaders who are ‘others-centered’.” He goes on to explain that the paradox of this approach to leadership is that while the leader “…concentrates less on the organization and more on individuals, the organization gains more because the employees are working to uphold the organization’s needs.”

So you see, an others-focused practice of leadership can also yield greater return on investment for a business—it can reap monetary rewards. Simply put, when people are treated well they work more effectively. However, it must be intentional on the part of the leader. Remember the famous John Donne quote, “No man is an island”? This succinctly communicates our need for one another and especially the idea of connection to each other. “Window” leaders understand this vital connection. It is only by stepping away from our mirrors and turning to look outward to others that we begin to make connections to people around us and begin to reap the benefit of meaningful relationships.

Consider the profound urging of William Penn’s words: “I expect to pass through life but once.  If therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.”  Turn from the mirror to take in the magnificent view outside. Be a “window” leader!

Please provide your insight on this topic.

Renée N. Hale, DSL is an Organizational Performance Catalyst, with over 25 years experience in guiding individuals and teams, leading seminars, workshops, individual mentoring, and on the job training experiences.  She is a former professional violinist, and also served for 15 years as an international representative for a non-profit organization in Africa. Renée works fluently in French, and facilitates cross-cultural leadership learning. Dr. Hale’s broad worldview offers distinctive insights, innovative applications, and the capacity to see, understand and apply significant conceptual connections.

Dr. Renée N. Hale is also founder and president of WellSpirit Consulting Group, Inc.—engaging organizations around the world to get well, stay well, and create positive futures. Visit  today.  © 2011 Renée N. Hale

13 thoughts on “Guest Blogger – Mirror or Window Leadership?

  1. Successful leaders are window leaders. They are able to constantly see the “big picture” and they anticipate what changes need to be made. Leaders who only think about themselves are inefficient because they can’t see past their own needs and do not focus on the greater good. Leadership is often about doing what is right for the organization even when it may not be a popular personal choice.
    Window leaders know their brand and emphasis that brand by defining their individual personal leadership style. Some ways to immortalize your brand is to “state your views, voice your ideas and chart your own path” (Knowledge@Wharton, 2005). A successful leader has to be in synergy with their employees and know how to unite, when to push and when to walk away. They realize employees are individuals and they know they have to be respected to work in the most efficient manor possible.

    Works Cited
    Knowledge@Wharton. (2005, 1 14). You Are your Brand: Defining a Personal Leadership Style. Retrieved 3 28, 2011, from Knowledge@Wharton:

      • I think there are some similarities between window and strategic managers however I don’t think strategic managers place enough emphasis on employees. While they do tend to see a broader picture I think they are still inclined to focus on getting the objective completed.

  2. Mirror leaders are typically short-timers. Always focused on the next opportunity to advance, moving on with their career objectives. Outstanding strategic leaders are window leaders. Richard Daft, author of The Leadership Experience , states that “five key components necessary for strategic conversations are an open communications climate, asking questions, active listening, discernment, and dialogue. The benefits of these strategic conversations across boundaries and hierarchical levels can foster and embed strategic goals and understanding across the employee population. Window leaders look to others for views and can relay strategic themes. Working in an environment under window leadership, a leader who champions communication and employee concern, views, and opinions can also be a strong strategic leader. Open communications among leaders and staff can help achieve desired outcomes. Window leaders that establish an open a two-way communications channel allows clear directions and provide people with an understanding of how they can contribute, both strategically and in terms of accomplishing goals. I think window leaders, sincere and trusted window leaders, are excellent strategic leaders. They understand that “no man is an island”.
    Daft, R.L. & Lane, P.G. (2008).The Leadership Experience. Mason, Ohio. Thomson South-Western. Retrieved April 4, 2011 from

  3. There is no doubt that strong and effective leaders are constantly able to view the big picture in terms of goals, and direct employees according to their talents and abilities. Bestselling author, Jim Collins, has also used the mirror and window metaphor in his book Good to Great. In his book, Collins explains how truly talented leaders will look in the mirror at themselves when results are poor, and not look out the window to external factors, luck, or other individuals. On the other hand, when results turn out well, great leaders will attribute the success to the hard work of his/her team and other external factors. Collins goes on to explain how these leaders are usually characterized by a strong professional will and personal modesty. I agree with Dr. Hale, if we do not look up from the mirror, we will never be satisfied with ourselves or others. In addition, we will miss opportunities to let ourselves and especially others realize their true potential.


    Collins, J. (2001). Good to Great. (1st ed.). New York City: HarperBusiness.

  4. Thank you for your tutelage Dr. Hale. Your perspective is very well stated.

    Over are the days of dictator-like management styles. These antiquated tactics – adopted by the Baby Boomer and Mature Generations – are not conducive with the desires of Generations X and Y. Author Douglas Caulkins briefly illustrates this fact in a recent article, while discussing various elements of Jim Collin’s book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t (Harper Business, New York, 2001). Consider the following excerpt: “… organizations with CEO-imposed discipline, which are rarely sustainable and often decline when the CEO steps down …” (2008, p. 218). Thus, we can conclude that a new style of leadership is needed. Like Dr. Hale, I am an advocate for “window” leaders, or more specifically servant-leaders (Greenleaf, 1996).

    Caulkins, D. (2008). Re-theorizing Jim Collin’s culture of discipline in Good to Great. Innovation: The European Journal of Social Sciences, 21(3), 218.

    Collins, J. C. (2001). Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t. New York: Harper Business.

    Greenleaf, R. (1996). On Becoming a Servant-Leader. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

      • If this were the case, organizations would both look and be perceived in a manner contrary to their current state. What is more, they would demonstrate cohesion, efficiency, and effectiveness. Yet, most importantly, they would lack all of the social strife. Imagine if everyone cared…

  5. In order for companies to be successful they must start posses a strong foundation. Companies who often have this attribute also have great leaders. It is also important to note that a company’s foundation is built on the backs of their employees. Therefore it is imperative that companies continue to change and develop new ways of leadership style. Gone are the days of mirror leaders. Leadership style that companies can employ would be servant leadership. Benjamin Lichtenwalner, describes, “We seek not to lead, but to serve first and find that, in serving, our greatest influence is leading. We seek not to use others for our own gain, but for their benefit and the benefit of their communities.” I truly believe to efficiently manage Generation Y a more servant type leadership will be more effective opposed to a mirror approach.

    Lichtenwaler, B. (2010, November 16). Servant leadership manifesto [Online Forum Comment]. Retrieved from

  6. Many managers tend to use mirror leadership styles rather than a window leadership style because it’s easy to get caught up with our own needs rather than what’s best for the team. According to The Leader’s Window it states that there are four styles of leadership: director, problem solver, developer, and delegator. In order to use window leadership styles one must incorporate all four of these styles in order to “see the big picture” rather than focusing on the “mirror”. This being said, it’s important that managers don’t focus on one style of leadership rather incorporate all leadership styles into their everyday practices. Beck and Yeager are quoted saying “high-performance teamwork is the end result of leading individuals on the team in unique ways according to who they are and what they are being asked to do, while responding to team dynamics.”

    Beck, J. D. W., & Yeager, N. M. (2nd Ed.). (2001). The leader’s window: Mastering the four styles of leadership to build high performing teams. Mountain View, CA: Davies-Black Publishing.

  7. Dr. Hale’s blog left me questioning how often is poor management a result of someone only looking inward to themselves only because they have never been given the knowledge base to become a successful leader. A recent article in the Chief Learning Officer discusses that in the United States training days per employee is limited to two days per year. (Edwards, 2005). Josh Bersin a corporate trainer recently outlined 6 best practices to follow for a successful leadership development program:

    1. Strong executive engagement – showing their commitment to the program.

    2. Tailor leadership competencies that are most important to your organization.

    3. Leadership development should include the company’s strategy.

    4. Development programs should apply to all levels of management.

    5. Comprehensive training approach that offers both external and internal development opportunities.

    6. Assessment program to help identify leadership potential in employee base.

    Bersin. J. (2008). Leadership development in 2008. Chief Learning Officer, 7(2),18. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

    Edwards, R. (2005). Knowledge sharing for the mobile workforce. Chief Learning Officer, 4(5), 48-53. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

  8. What great insight! I do believe that managers are typically either thinking of the organization or of themselves, but not from the perspective of who they are serving. I cannot think of a better way to foster an environment where employees feel that they are a valued part of the organization, and I believe that Mary Parker Follet would agree since this outlook supports the Behavioral School of Management Thought.

    “Window” leaders have a higher level of organizational commitment and prosocially motivated behavior that is apparent to his/her employees. There are multitudes of theories that support the fact that happy employees make productive employees. If an employee feels valued, he/she is more likely to have a strong job satisfaction which correlates with his/her level of performance. This also could indicate that the employee is not just extrinsically motivated, but intrinsically motivated as well because of the sense of accomplishment that he/she feels that has been achieved.

    All managers should be reminded of the “Window” approach so that they can truly be effective leaders in their organizations.

    George, Jennifer M. & Jones, Gareth R. (2009). Contemporary Management. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Irwin.

  9. Mirrors reveal truths that we are not always willing to see when we look into them. And the mirror is beyond a shadow of a doubt, most effective tool you must have. Humility is the key to being a more competitive company and influential leader. “In Jim Collins’ Good to Great research, he discovered two unique traits of leaders who moved companies from average performance to great: 1) intense professional will, and 2) extreme personal humility. But while humility is an nice trait, who wants humility if it’s incompatible with winning? For most people, tradition holds that the opposite of excessive ego is humility, when in fact having too little ego is as dangerous and unproductive as having too much. Humility is the equilibrium between the two extremes and catalyst for healthy ego.” Level 5 leaders looked out of the window to credit others for success and looked in the mirror to apportion responsibility when things didn’t go to plan. Charismatic leaders from companies that didn’t make the grade as great had a tendency to look through the window to blame other factors for their lack of success and looked in the mirror to take credit when things went well.

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