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what every leader needs – a mirror that can look at you

October 12, 2015

I am not blind but there is one thing I know that I will never see.

This past weekend I again had the privilege to serve sixteen outstanding individuals by facilitating George Leonard’s Samurai Game for them. In our discussions towards the end of the day a theme emerged that was centered around the differences that arose between how we think we show up as leaders and how others experience our leadership efforts.

You might not be blind, but there is one thing I can see that I know you never will.

The day after the Samurai Game I was working with my trainer, the wonderful Tony Lewis on improving my flexibility in my thighs/hips/ lower back/ spine/ shoulder blades. (I list them all because Tony’s experience as Principal Dancer with the Queensland Ballet forms the foundation for his understanding of the importance of working with the whole person not just their individual muscles). I had watched him demonstrate and was doing my best to emulate the new form, checking in the mirrors to try to match what I was doing to what I had seen him do.

Picture of a magic mirror

It is what they say that is magic.

A mirror doesn’t help me see what I can never see because the person doing the looking is me.

The Samurai Game  provides a challenging environment for leaders. Selecting people in your team to undertake tasks based on their skills and abilities is difficult, particularly if you have only just met them that day. It makes the decision even harder when you know, within the metaphor of the game, that they are going into battle and they may not return. Meeting budget or production targets is one thing, but it is hard to think that you are doing a good job leading when you look around and see that half of your team is no longer there.

What we see is rarely the same as what is.

Tony said the new exercise should provide a more dynamic stretch to my hamstrings. I was feeling it in my back and I said so. He looked at me again and suggested some adjustments in the positions of my hands and feet and suggested instead of pushing against I lead with a movement towards. Sure enough my hamstrings started singing and my back was silent.

Looking in a mirror shows us only what we expect to see or what we fear others will see.

The young woman from the Samurai Game said that she thought she had been a terrible leader because her team had lost battle after battle while she had led. A chorus of voices rose in disagreement. She had been thrust into leadership unexpectedly, had made a number of decisions in particularly difficult circumstances and exhibited a strength of character and maturity that had impressed those many years her senior. I think it was hard for her to listen to them at first but as each new member of her team spoke of what they saw as her strength in leadership, she was able to start to see it herself.

The only way I can ever know how I look to you … is if you tell me.

When you are trying to teach me new things the only way you can know I have listened well is if I tell you how it now looks for me. It requires us to have the courage to speak those words clearly and the humility to hear them well.

If you can find someone who can act as a mirror for you and tell you what they can see it will make all the difference to your leadership and your life. Don’t worry, they are not as rare as the fairy tales would have you believe.


If you would like me to come and share with you and your team the benefits that come from my work in the theatre and the experiential learning environments that I create, make me an offer via the Contact Me page.

Here is what some participants have said about their experience with me:

I participated in the Samurai Game workshop Paul facilitated and I highly recommend it. I found it to be an exceptional opportunity to learn more about who you are as a person and how you behave/respond to different situations and events that you have no control over. You think you know how you will behave/respond, […]

Jodie Farthing (Environmental Advisor)

Paul facilitated the Samurai Leadership Challenge with the graduating Bond University 2011 MBA class. Compelled by the Samurai values and continuously challenged by Paul in his role as the unfair and capricious Fate of War, my team & I pushed personal boundaries to acknowledge, adapt and compensate for both self & team limitations. In the […]

Priya Natasen (Project Manager – Supply Chain & Finance)

For more on the Samurai Game you should start here and here.

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