In Relationship: Holding Up the Mirror

Jun 12, 2023 | All Blogs, Bias, In Relationship Series, Leadership

This post is part of our In Relationship series, where we’re diving into what it means to truly be in relationship with others and why we make it our priority.


When we first start working with an organization, we often get asked to provide a set of outcomes. While we understand the desire to know what our work will accomplish, we tell our clients that we can’t answer that question until we do some relationship-building. The goals of working with Leverage to Lead will depend on what we learn about ourselves and each other. 

That is to say, until we build trust, safety, and clarity about the workplace culture, values, power dynamics, and ability to implement change, we can’t make any truly informed choices about what we want or where we want to go. 

So first, we just start to deepen those relationships–among your team and between our team and yours. And then we make the invisible visible by holding up a mirror to people, the work, and the way work gets done. 

Often, the mirror reveals:

What people carry. No one shows up baggage-free. We all bring a full range of experiences, learning, expectations, inhibitions, styles, desires, and previous roles. We create space for our full selves to share what we carry and reflect on how it impacts our current work and coworkers. 

Power dynamics. Whatever your organizational chart may say, power dynamics are at play among your leadership and teams. Our goal is to see the dynamics clearly and disrupt them when necessary. Sometimes, we show leaders how they silence disagreement, despite truly wanting to hear all sides. Sometimes, we help employees see the power they actually hold, despite inequitable structures. And sometimes, we help the entire organization see what kind of power they’re all trying to hold and even take from each other. It’s a hard mirror to look into, but crucial to figuring out how to move forward.

Relationship dynamics. Sometimes, we fall into roles that are hard to break out of. We become the peacemaker, negotiator, or everyone’s “work mom.” Even without such labels, our relationships are affected by the beliefs we hold about ourselves, the stories we tell ourselves about other people’s behaviors, and the assumptions we make. We have to see ourselves clearly before we can set goals for what we want to change.

Unstated values. Every organization has a currency, whether it’s explicit or not. Sometimes, the currency is power, or it can be money, status, prestige, niceness, long hours, or burnout. People’s behaviors will often reveal the currency being traded. Even when feeling powerless, people can gain currency with performative work, forming coalitions, gossiping, withholding information, creating silos, etc. Once the currency is identified, we can look at how it’s been driving behaviors. 

The fullness and complexity of our humanity. Real clarity comes when we can see ourselves and each other as simply human–with desires, feelings, needs, stories, obligations, flaws, and hearts. This human mirror shows us that our identities contain far more than our jobs, and helps keep us from reducing people to their roles, stats, or productivity. 

Holding up the mirror is the beginning of transformation. Organizations have to see what’s happening now before they can imagine a different future. But to formulate a roadmap to that future, we have to be willing to grapple with what’s in the mirror.

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