Reflections of a Leader

Some of my favorite things to photograph when travelling are reflections of landmarks, trees or animals in bodies of water. Photographing a reflection in water adds a unique and interesting perspective and depth to a photo. For a successful reflection, you need not only to understand how the elements work, but help from Mother Nature contributes to getting that image just right. For a start you would need a clear blue sky with little or no wind. A reflection also works best early in the morning when there is no direct sunlight on the water. The clearer the sky and the calmer the water, the greater the chance you have of capturing a perfect shot.

Recently I was lucky enough to take a shot of the reflection at a watering hole of a Black-backed Jackal in a reserve in Southern Africa. All the ingredients – a clear, crisp morning, bright sunshine, no wind, a body of water and of course a fantastic subject – the jackal, were present and correct. All I had to do was to wait for the right moment and take the shot! I was astonished to see the result when I processed the photo later that evening. Not only was the jackal in perfect focus, but the reflection in the water was also a great reflection of the jackal. Interestingly I noticed that because of the position of the sun at the time, the jackal had also projected a perfect shadow.

On reflection (excuse the pun!) the photograph made me think about how we behave as leaders and how others experience and perceive us. We often talk about reflective leadership or that behavior is a reflection of our values. A lot has been written about the importance of a leadership shadow.

As in the photo of the Black-backed Jackal’s reflection, I think true and authentic leadership is achieved and made up of similar components:

  • The reflection self – what do others see and experience through your behaviors? What value system do you reflect? Often leaders project a reflection that they believe is appropriate but does not reflect their values.
  • The shadow self – the shadow of the leader is what people remember, and what help sets a culture in a company. Your legacy is built around your shadow. How you behaved, nurtured and mentored the organization, is what will be your lasting legacy and what will be remembered and built on.
  • The true self – This is who you really are. Are you acting according to your own value system or someone else’s values? Is your leadership authentic and true to who you really are?

Simply put – the photo of the jackal shows the actual jackal, its reflection and its shadow. When we look at the photo, we see the animal, just in different forms but it is still the same animal. It is the same with leadership. The closer the shadow and reflection of the leader to whom they really are, the more true and authentic the leader becomes and is experienced by people around them.

Are you true to yourself and are you creating congruency with your reflection and shadow?