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Who Causes Most of Our Teams’ Problems?

The most underused tool in a leader’s tool box is the mirror.

When the majority of a team does not follow the leader’s guidance, whose fault is it? For many of us, we look outside ourselves for the answer. We become frustrated with everyone else. I have been there and done that! Plus, I have watched good leaders place the blame on their teams. But, who is the common denominator in the equation? The leader.

I learned this firsthand, especially in my worst-to-first journey from my early management days. Back then, I had to ask myself:

- When a sales team implements a good strategy poorly – who is the common denominator?

- When a team fails to speak up when asked for their opinions – who is the common denominator?

- When a department misunderstands the plans for the quarter – who is the common denominator?

Perhaps the most underused tool in a leader’s tool box is the mirror.

I have learned the hard way how I must have the Humility to look at myself first, before looking at others. Many of us have too much belief in our own abilities to communicate clearly and make things happen. So, when something doesn’t go right, we find fault in others. But, if we stopped and looked in the mirror—the real issues probably lie closer to home.

A mirror tells us the root cause of our problems. Most leaders aren’t the gifted communicators they think they are. When we look back and think it through, many of us realize we were unclear or we never really confirmed our audience understood us or our intent.

I faced this recently with an individual I was coaching—a Senior Vice President at a large technology firm. This individual, we will call him “Alex,” was frustrated with the consistent misunderstandings between himself and his leadership team. Alex told me he always checked at the end of his meetings to be sure they were all on the same page. Only he would find out later, they were not.

I told him, “When you ask, ‘Does everybody understand?’ or ‘Are there any questions?’ this is inadequate. Most people will stay quiet in order to avoid rocking the boat or extending a meeting. They walk away with unanswered questions or only partial understanding. Instead, conclude your meeting by asking, ‘Now, what is our strategy?’ or ‘What were our key points in our discussion?’”

At this point, Alex realized he had been the common denominator in the multiple misunderstandings. After his next meeting, he reported back to me how asking better questions and listening allowed his team to avert a major misunderstanding. His willingness to look for his own role in his team’s issues was an exercise in Humility.

For leaders—both at work and home—most of the problems our teams face originate closer to home than pride will let us admit. It takes Humility to look at every problem and begin with a self-check. But when we do, the people we are called to lead will notice. They have an opportunity see a different way to view problems. This gives them a chance to follow our example. Imagine a team or family who didn’t blame situations on other people, but instead looked in the mirror. This would create a team or family who accepted responsibility and solved problems on their own. We would have a unit who emulated a Leader of Character.

Dig Deep Questions:

  • What recent misunderstanding could use reevaluation using the mirror?

  • What was your role in the misunderstanding and how can you change it?


It is important to us for you to have an opportunity to exercise Humility, not only individually, but together as a team. This is why we have created practice cards with scenarios. We invite you to discuss as a team what it means to exercise Humility via our Coaching Cards.

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