This is Part 3 of my “Awful vs. Awesome” Leadership series. Find Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

If you’re a parent, you see the Mirror Effect occur daily, hourly and even by the minute. My wife and I actually have it down to about 10 seconds. For example, one child hits the other with a wooden sword or stick, or perhaps a tennis racket or something non-descript like a bicycle pump (or a combination of all of them). Within ten seconds or less the other one responds using a wooden crossbow, but instead of shooting his brother with the cork-tipped arrow it came with, he experiments with something more interesting like a massively sharpened #2 pencil that actually sticks into his 9-year-old assailant’s back. Not that this has ever happened MORE THAN twice (okay maybe three times) in our family!

Meanwhile, as the two pugilists “who-have-done-no-wrong” duke it out, the youngest sits on the sidelines watching, learning… and waiting for his opportunity to replicate what he’s just witnessed. That will come later and he’ll get the best of both of them.

During this craziness, the oldest has done no wrong from the beginning. He sat in the background barking at his brothers, reminding them they aren’t good enough to play “his” video game.

Of course this is purely fictional in our house of four golden-haloed boys who ONLY EVER treat their brothers with love and respect. They NEVER break each other down – they only ever build each other up! Right?


Hopefully by now, you’re quietly laughing inside as you say “Yep, I have kids who star in that movie too!” Obviously my boys aren’t perfect and I’m certainly not the perfect parent. Buying crossbows for all of them at the time sounded like a great learning tool while touring the weapons museum in Toledo, Spain. “What a great keepsake for them to remember our trip!” I tried in vain to explain to my wife when she returned from getting bottles of water to find all four kids brandishing their new mementos.

It’s always a risk using children to describe something that adults do, but we do often behave the same way. We just do it with a little more sophistication! Even though we grow out of our childhood we don’t grow out of the way we learned as a child. We watch – we experience – we replicate.

The Mirror Effect

We copy what others do, especially if they are influential people in our lives. Psychologists use a term called “mirroring” or the “mirroring effect” to describe how people reflect the behavior of others, including speech patterns, gestures, and attitudes.

I’ll piggyback on this term and use it to describe what happens with people in leadership positions. Think of yourself and your actions as a mirror. What you do reflects both consciously (how your actions make them feel) and subconsciously (imitating your behaviors, actions, and attitudes) on those around you.

As a child, who’s the number one person we watch? A parent. And if the parent isn’t around? The oldest one in the room (usually).

As an adult, who do we watch before we decide to take action? The leader in the room, and how that persons acts is usually how we’ll start to act. If the leader is reading email during a meeting, then we’ll read our email during the meeting. If the leader shows up late to work or to a meeting, then we’ll show up later. If the leader yells at people for not getting something done, then we’ll start yelling too.

Pick any one of those actions on the Awful & Awesome Chart – it doesn’t matter if it’s an Awful or Awesome action, people will mirror the actions of those above them and/or around them. (I’m making a general statement here – people who have experienced the difference between Awful and Awesome will make a decision: stay or go. If they stay, they’ll do their best to avoid Awful for as long as they can tolerate it and then they’ll leave. Either way, it’s never a good ending when you’re building a team.) That’s why being an Awesome Leader is so damn important! Your actions speak louder than your words and set the tone for everything that happens on your team.

This brings us back to Part One of “Awful vs Awesome” about fixed versus growth mindsets. The actions you decide to take ARE UP TO YOU. From this point on, you HAVE NO EXCUSES. You are in charge of your thoughts, your emotions, your attitudes, and your actions. YOU DECIDE what kind of a leader you want to be.

You may say, “But Alden, I don’t have an Awesome Leader in my organization”. Then find others to read about and replicate their actions (and keep reading these posts, they’ll help too). But you can’t move yourself from the Awful to the Awesome column without YOUR willingness to grow, change, learn, and improve.

You can even go so far as to tell your teammates that you’re working on your leadership skills. Invite them to hold up a mirror for you. It’s called good old honest, candid feedback, not the “rose tinted glasses” variety! Show them you’re trying, and guess what will happen? They’ll try too! And while you’re trying to improve your ability to serve them, they will mirror your actions and work to serve you by offering you advice. It’s a spiral of good actions that will lead you and your teammates to finding success together.

And when you celebrate those successes, stick to plaques or trophies — not crossbows!

It’s UP TO YOU to be your own best leader.

See you in the NEW YEAR. It’s going to be an AWESOME year!