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Good leaders are interested in windows, not mirrors

Jul 08, 2012 Leadership, Sunday Nation

Do you want to know how to spot a good leader? Here’s a simple test: Good leaders spend more time looking out of windows than into mirrors.

Let me explain. Good leaders are insatiably curious about the world. They are always interested in what’s going on, in how things work, in what’s changing and what’s not. They watch consumers carefully to work out in advance which way their behaviour might alter. They keep a close eye on technology so that they can use it to their advantage, rather than be blown off their seats unexpectedly by it.

So good leaders keep looking out of windows, for that’s where the real action is happening. Out in the real world.

Another reason good leaders peer out of portals is that that’s where their results lie. The consequence of good leadership, you see, is not what happens to the leader in his office; it’s what happens to the followers out in the world. So a good leader is always deeply interested in how the followers are doing. She has great concern for the wellbeing of employees, constituents, the environment and society at large.

Good leaders also gaze out of windows to know how happy their customers are. They understand fully well that the customer is the one essential mainstay of the business ecosystem, and that a sensible businessperson must never, ever take his eye off the customer, no matter what the distractions.

That’s what good leaders are: intensely interested in what’s happening around them; and on the impact of their leadership. That’s why they are always seen walking around and talking around, fascinated by what other people are doing and saying. They read and observe stuff, and they engage fully with the world that they serve.

Let’s move on to the other type of leaders. These are the vast majority, which is why the world is in generally a sorry state. This group of people has little interest in windows; its fascination is with glass of the reflecting kind.

Bad leaders don’t ‘understand’ leadership. They think it’s about them, the rulers. They imagine that the leader is everything, and the followers are nothing. They live in that cuckoo-land that is enshrouded by clouds of self-regard. In that peculiar land, it’s all me-me-me. I am the beginning and the end of the enterprise, whether it be a family, a business or a nation.

It is no wonder these people are always gazing into mirrors in a state of intense self-adoration. The only thing they need to do is validate how well they’re doing: their status, their power, their wealth. All else is a sideshow, mere collateral damage.

These are the folks whose first action on being appointed leader is to close the windows in the corner office, draw the curtains and appoint various gatekeepers. Now that they lead they have no further interest in the world, except when it’s time to get votes or keep the public relations flow going.

These are also the people who one day get surprised by the world they’ve forgotten. They lose touch with its realities, and fail to anticipate its changing trends. They are the dictators toppled suddenly by angry citizens; the chief executives undone abruptly by their failure to keep an eye on their customers; the chairmen dismounted unceremoniously by frustrated shareholders.

Sudden endings are common in leadership, and they are occuring all around us. Next time you look at the person to whom it happens, gaze more deeply. The chances are high you will be seeing a preening, self-important, self-validating leader who just lost touch.

The first thing that recently unseated leaders should do is to shatter that distorted mirror that has been their undoing, and walk to the windows and throw them open. What really matters, lies out there.

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