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In my early days of studying organizations, I started compiling a list of pithy observations about leadership.  I was in my early twenties, so (naturally) I was pretty impressed with my work.  I titled the list “Longan’s Axioms of Organizations” and collected over 20  before I stopped intentionally updating the list.

I think most of you will agree that not everything you do in your early twenties looks that great with a few years to reflect on it.  But the items on this list have held up pretty well. So today, I’ll give you #5 from Longan’s Axioms of Organizations:


Just as dogs and their owners end up resembling each other, companies end up reproducing the traits of their visible and vocal leadership.  


Have you ever noticed that about dogs and owners - that they end up resembling each other; that they seem to match one another?  It might not always happen with hair styles or face shapes; sometimes it's general disposition.  But it is really a behavioral phenomenon that scientists are researching. Organizations and leadership tend to function in the same way: given long enough, organizations will reflect the characteristics of their leadership.


Now, this axiom has a lot of implications for how we fill our roles as leaders of teams and companies and boards, etc., but I'd like to draw out just a few today through a couple key questions:

  1. Do you have a good mirror (and do you look at it)?  Do you know what you look like as a leader?  This is such a massively important point: Since your organization is going to end up looking like you, you'd better have a firm grasp on your strengths and weaknesses.  Because, left to itself, your company is going to reproduce them en masse (both the good and the not-so-good).  All of our work will be benefitted by having a clear picture of what those strengths and weaknesses are.
    • There are a number of great ways to get mirrors for your work: You can get some some in-depth assessments of your work.  You can solicit honest feedback from colleagues and mentors. You can hire an objective consultant to work with you on this. But the important thing is to have avenues for getting a clear picture of ourselves as leaders.
  2. Do you have a good team (and are you able to defer and delegate to them)? When I work with leaders, they sometimes get a little discouraged when I share axiom #5 with them because, while they know what their weaknesses are, they don't feel they have the means to improve on them on their own.  But that's the beauty of the team! You don't have to do it alone! By having talented, complementary and empowered leadership team, a leader is able to supplement a few key traits that they themselves might lack, but that they know are essential to an organization accomplishing its vision.  Are you bad at managing details? Then get someone into a visible and vocal leadership role who is!  Do you struggle with consensus-building? Then make sure you've got someone on your leadership team that can do this effectively.

Again, there are a lot of other insights we can draw from this concept of "leadership mirroring," but I just wanted to get the conversation started here.  Please feel free to drop me a line or make a comment on the blog and we can keep the conversation going!