Why Leaders Should Focus On Mirrors & Windows

by  Sean Glaze  |  Team Dynamics
Why Leaders Should Focus On Mirrors & Windows

As a leader, you should always be concerned about two things: mirrors and windows. Mirrors are about focusing on personal responsibility. That part of leadership is important, and is honestly often discussed.

But windows are equally important because they allow you to see the impact your actions have on the people around you. Windows are about focusing on relationships.

When I was coaching high school boys’ basketball, I had a kid on my team named Jason. Jason was a pretty good player – but he was always late when we had Saturday morning basketball practices. Because I was a good coach with rules, Jason stayed after and ran every Saturday in November.

Then again in December, when we were out of school and practiced over winter break, he was late to our first practice. So he ran.

I was getting tired of it, so I finally asked him, in a very angry tone, “Dude, what is your problem? Why aren’t you getting here on time? You could be a starter.”

I had assumed he was irresponsible. I assumed he was oversleeping. I had assumed the negative in absence of information.

Then one of his teammates came over to me after practice and asked: “Coach – do you not know about Jason’s situation?”

“What situation?”

“Jason lives with his grandma, and she won’t let him ride with anybody else. But she doesn’t bring him until his brother has been taken care of. His brother is paraplegic.”

Wow! I had made assumptions and punished instead of asking questions to understand and resolve a problem.

The more aware you are of your teammates and their highlights and their hardships, the better you can work with them. Because the truth is that our personal and professional lives are always impacting each other, and…

“To neglect knowing about one is to sacrifice success in the other.”

One of the best days I had as coach of that team was later in the season, when Jason’s family was moving from one rental house to another. His grandmother wasn’t able to do much lifting, so our coaches and our players and their parents all showed up one Sunday.

We moved every piece of furniture and we carried boxes and we spent time together eating and laughing like we never would have on the court. They became a closer team off the court by investing in each other.

Looking out windows invites you to cross a line. You know the line I’m talking about. It’s the line between personal and professional lives that we often make the mistake of believing should never be crossed. It’s the one that tells you not to ask about Jason’s situation at home. But winning teammates know how important it is to cross the line.

Early in my career as a coach, I drew up a lot of plays and focused on strategy and saw every player in my locker room as a uniform. It was only when I started to understand and appreciate the people inside the uniforms that I really became a good coach. That’s how you establish trust and loyalty.

Every professional is first a person, with a life outside your locker room or office. Invest in their lives and they will invest in your office. You don’t have to help them move or cater their wedding. But you do need to know and care about what’s going on in their life.

Building relationships is one of the 5 essential steps for transforming any group into a great team. It is a process I share in my newest book, Rapid Teamwork, which is a parable for team leaders. If you want a high-performing team, you have to look out windows to see and become more aware of others.

There is a secret that will help you to learn more about your teammates and coworkers. Pens ready? Here’s the secret: “Ask questions.”

Be courageous enough to cross the line by asking questions:

  • Will you tell me about your family?
  • How are your parents doing?
  • What is happening with your daughter’s volleyball team?

When you ask a question and sincerely want a quality answer, you transform yourself from being superficial to being concerned. Winning teammates don’t give or accept speeding fines.

You know what speeding fines are? “Oh, I’m fine. He’s fine. We’re fine. Everything’s fine.” Fines are efficient but efficient is never effective when it comes to building stronger and deeper relationships.

Sean GlazeI hope you will pick up a copy of my book, Rapid Teamwork, and share its lessons with the other leaders in your life to help them build effective teams more quickly. 

I hope you will remember to look out your windows and take the time to ask questions of people in your organization to increase your awareness of their dreams, and difficulties.

Strengthening relationships is the first step in strengthening your team and improving the collaborative conversations that will contribute to your success.

Is there a window inviting you to gaze more deeply today?
Photo Credit: Fotolia Vladislav Kochelaevs

About The Author

Articles By sean-glaze
Sean helps smart organizations improve teamwork, boost morale, and create a high-performance culture with fun team building events, entertaining keynotes, and customized workshops  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

John E. Smith  |  22 Sep 2015  |  Reply


Wow, just wow … this is a seriously impactful post that packs a wealth of personal and professional development into a gripping story and some thoughtful observations.

Several points really grabbed me:

1) “I had assumed he was irresponsible. I assumed he was oversleeping. I had assumed the negative in absence of information.”

We are always hearing about the negative power of assumptions and I am one of many who preach about not assuming things. You have instead provided a powerful story about what happens when you assume. I appreciate you sharing it.

2) “We moved every piece of furniture and we carried boxes and we spent time together eating and laughing like we never would have on the court. They became a closer team off the court by investing in each other.”

A great testimonial to the power of working together, not just on the group goals and activities, but working as a group on things outside the business end of our lives. I know this type of sharing works to create more cohesive and powerful teams because I have experienced it time and again. I wish more people were willing to experience the value of doing things together.

3) “Winning teammates don’t give or accept speeding fines.”

I love this phrase. It goes to the heart of connecting with others beyond the superficial or mundane and being aware of others in ways that are not always part of our daily routines.

You just sold at least one book … and maybe more. I cannot wait to read more of your thoughts.

Thanks for enhancing my weekday routine with some engaging and useful leadership thinking:)


Sean Glaze  |  22 Sep 2015  |  Reply

Thanks so much for your comments, John –

My experiences as a coach are very much like many managers and leaders in any other organization, and I enjoy sharing my A-Ha moments to help keep others from having to learn the same lessons the hard way!

Hoping the book finds an audience that appreciates and can apply it’s insights!

Will Lukang  |  22 Sep 2015  |  Reply

Assuming things is life greats challenges. It is easy to fall in that trap and the outcome is often damaging. As a leader, it is important for us to take the interest in knowing what is important to our people. We need to touch their heart people was ask them to do something for us. Thanks you for sharing a touching story about Jason.


Sean Glaze  |  23 Sep 2015  |  Reply

Will –
I believe there are “Jasons” all around us, and we only discover the hidden personal stories they have by asking questions and sincerely caring about our coworkers as people…
Thanks for your comment!

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