What to Ask the Person in the Mirror


“…the best way to figure out how you’re doing is to step back and ask yourself a few questions.” *

Today, I was just chatting with one of my mentors, John Fowler, a Senior Vice President at The Northern Trust Company, about if and how senior leaders really assess their skills, ethics, etc. Here’s why:


  1. All leaders get off track on occasion.
  2. The higher the rank in the company (large or small), the fewer opportunities exist for honest and direct feedback.
  3. If feedback is given, it is often filtered because no one wants to anger the boss. Or, the feedback is completed rejected by the boss.
  4. The performance management process does provide the opportunity for feedback, but this feedback often seems more rote than useful.


So then what? How do you really know how are you doing as a leader; the ethics you are displaying; how your peers, subordinates perceive you, your leadership style, progress, capabilities and fit?

John shared with me one of his tactics for receiving regular, honest and direct feedback. He said he has never forgotten the message his dad shared with him years ago:

“Son, you better like who you see every morning while you are lookin’ in the mirror and shaving. Because that is the person you have to answer to every day on how you are conducting business and treating people.” 

And, as a strong believer in reflection being a key leadership trait, I love Fowler Sr.’s advice. And, I can vouch that this ‘high-tech’ method John employs on a daily basis works. His leadership and ethics bars are off the charts. Let’s hear it for effective self-assessment in action!

In his spot-on article, “What to Ask the Person in the Mirror,*” Robert Kaplan suggests self-assessing your performance as a leader and manager periodically related to seven key leadership challenges. Here is a teaser:

To address this leadership challengeManaging Time

AskDoes the way I spend my time match my key priorities?


BecauseTracking your use of time can reveal startling – even horrifying – disconnects between your top priorities and your actions. Such disconnects send confusing messages to employees about your true priorities.

Follow the link to learn more. I think this is a fantastic ‘ready reference’ that any leader could post on his / her bathroom mirror for daily reflection while shaving or brushing your teeth.  I am sharing this article with the team of senior leaders I am working with now. I will let you know how it goes!

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Sandra Schwan

Sandra Schwan

Managing Partner at Evolving Strategies LLC
Sandra is the Managing Partner of Evolving Strategies LLC, a consulting firm helping companies and people learn, adapt and perform. Sandra holds a Master of Science degree in Adult Learning and Strategic Organizational Change from Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism from the University of Arkansas. Previous employers include the Corporate Executive Board, Lante Corporation, Kensington International, and Accenture where Sandra was awarded mentor of the year.

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