Two Important Leadership Tests
Somewhere in the mix of my father, the United States Military Academy and the Army I learned two important self tests for leadership: the “Man in the Mirror” test and the “Would I” test. While I am human and have failed these tests and their exacting standards from time to time, I think they have on balance served me well.
The Man in the Mirror test is: Can you look yourself in the eye (in the mirror) after you’ve made this decision? The question is profound and very powerful. It alone, if asked at the appropriate time, might keep you from making otherwise foolish ethical choices and poor leadership decisions. Would it have kept Lay and Skilling, Maddoff or Kozlowski from violating their fiduciary responsibilities? While I can’t answer this question, I do believe that if a person is “on balance good” and hasn’t succumbed to greed induced sociopathic behaviors, then this test will help keep them straight if asked at the appropriate times. As we’ve written before, building tests such as these into your daily routine can help you from taking the long journey of small steps towards unethical behavior.
The “Would I” test is much more focused on the concept of “Leadership by Example” that we discuss in The Art of Scalability. This test is also simple. You just ask yourself “Would I be willing to do what I am asking this person to do?” Maybe you are asking someone to work during their anniversary. Perhaps you are asking someone to skip a child’s sporting or school event. Maybe you’ve just given them some last minute assignment that will cause them to work all night, like completing a presentation for you to give at a conference tomorrow. “Would I” is not an excuse to be lenient on people, or not to hold people to aggressive standards. Rather, it is a test to determine if you are truly meeting the expectations that you hold of those around you.
In one respect, the “Man in the Mirror” and “Would I” tests fly in the face of concepts such as Strengths Based Leadership. They exist to keep us from failing due to shortsightedness, a lack of introspection and aggressive or excessive egoism. They are rooted in the concept that we sometimes fail because we fail to see how our actions will be perceived or acted upon by others. Leaders are humans, and leaders make mistakes. The “Man in the Mirror”, if employed often, helps us to avoid dangerous ethical pitfalls and the “Would I” test helps us avoid burning out our teams.