The Bravery to Look in the Mirror

“How are we doing?”   “Fine…why do you ask?”

“How are we doing?”  “Well, since you asked…”

The most difficult stage of self-assessment is the decision to do so.  Some teams abide by the adage, “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” or “never ask a question about which you don’t want the answer.” Brave teams, however, invite the answer even if it contains bad news. Beyond a fleeting glance, looking in the mirror requires bravery.

Adventurousness and risk were ingrained in the culture of the youth services organization that most recently embarked on the introspective diagnostic. Their work was hatched in the most dangerous neighborhoods of Chicago where access to resources is rarely on the Maslow pyramid when safety and sustenance rule the day. So, without even asking, they knew they performed important, life-altering, world-changing work. The question at hand was whether they could engage their mission more effectively.

The retreat was designed to evaluate every element of their culture: organizational vision, open communication, customer focus, sense of community, sustainability, employee development, succession planning, teamwork, commitment to wellness, and stewardship. Strengths and vulnerabilities were identified and the gap analysis revealed targeted action plans. Receptivity to feedback and accountability for change was promised by the leadership team. A follow-up measurement was scheduled. A call to action had resulted in a palpable uptick in organizational energy. Risks were about to be taken.

Although related, insight and action aren’t always partnered. Igniting a new idea only begins a change process. Assuming initiative and sustaining a commitment are different professional competencies. This is what empowers thriving teams to avoid complacency and stagnation: the willingness to take an unsolicited, extended gaze in the mirror rather than waiting for a cultural blemish to require it.

Go ahead, ask the question. How are we doing?

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