The Mirror and the Flashlight


The Mirror and the Flashlight

Imagine that, as you read this, a magical fairy appears before you. “I am the coaching fairy!” she says, “I’m here to give you two of the most POWERFUL tools you can have as a leader.” She hands you a mirror and a flashlight, and then disappears. After the shock wears off, you say, “What the heck am I supposed to do with these?” Let me explain how I use these two magical tools and share how you can employ them to transform the way you lead.


Being a mirror: We all need someone to tell us when we have spinach in our teeth. Unfortunately, when we are in a leadership position, people don’t have the courage or feel like they have permission to give us constructive feedback. As a coach, it’s my job to tell it to you like it is, not because you’re doing a bad job, but because I don’t want you walking around all day with the proverbial spinach in your teeth, and neither do you.


Being a flashlight: Things can move so quickly in business that it can feel impossible to slow down, take stock, and make intentional, proactive decisions. We get stuck on a hamster wheel. Then the hamster wheel catches fire, and no matter how fast we run, it’s never fast enough to put the flames out. Because I stand outside your business, I can say, “Hey! Jump out of that wheel! There is a fire extinguisher just on the other side!” Being a flashlight means I may not know more than you, but I can see the perspectives and opportunities you may be missing.


Here is what being a mirror and a flashlight does NOT mean. The mirror can’t take the spinach out of your teeth. The flashlight can’t push you off the hamster wheel and hand you the fire extinguisher. You have to do the work necessary to grow and change. When you are coaching your team members, show them the respect of believing that they can do the work to grow and change. Experience has told me that they will rise to the occasion most of the time. When they don’t? Well, that’s an article for another month.


Here are some ways to practice being a mirror and a flashlight for your team.

• Be Curious! Leave your ego and your expertise at the door and find out what your folks think.

– Practice asking open-ended questions. If it can be answered with a “yes” or a “no” then you can’t “see” how they are thinking through things and that is where the good stuff lives!

– Listen. Just listen. When you want to weigh in with your opinion, ask clarifying questions like, “What’s an example of when XYZ has happened?” or “Can you say more about ABC?” Seek to understand, rather than to be understood.

• Summarize what you’re hearing to confirm your understanding. For example, “When you enter the break room, and someone has finished the last cup of coffee but not started a new pot, it fills you with rage. Have I got that right?” (And now you know one of my top pet peeves!)

• Play with perspectives. If you could ask your customers to weigh in on the topic at hand, what would they say? If your parking spots could talk, what would be their point of view? It doesn’t matter what perspective you pick; it’s just about stepping into a perspective that isn’t your own.

• Take a “ birds-eye view” of the situation. You probably have a historical or business context that the team doesn’t. Help them get off their flaming hamster wheels with a high-level view so they can shift from reactive to strategic. Was it a bad quarter and folks are in a panic? Was it a great quarter and folks are sitting back and coasting?  Shining your flashlight on the big picture can help bring things back into focus.


Give some of these ideas a try, and let me know how it goes! I want to celebrate successes and failures with you. Don’t forget to send in your leadership questions. I look forward to tackling them together.


Colleen Gallion is an ICF certified professional coach. For more information, visit

Article contributed by:
Colleen Gallion, Gaillion Coaching
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