The practice of reflecting someone’s greatness is perhaps the more important practice for a leader.

Because leadership exists beyond the edge of our own comfort, the act of leading and developing leadership in others and ourselves will, by definition, be confronting.

When confronted, we naturally shift into the behaviours dictated by our shadows. We close our hearts and where we’re left is present only to the impact of our shadows, rather than the greatness beneath.

For example, someone who is Commitment, when confronted, may show up as flakey (the under-compensating aspect of their shadow). During these times, they will be much more present to this way of showing up, than they will to the underlying truth of the Commitment they are. And, predictably, so too will you, as their leader and the person supporting them.

To reflect someone’s greatness, we acknowledge them for the greatness underneath whatever may be showing up in the moment — especially when what is showing up are their shadows.

What can you acknowledge the person in front of you for? When you slow down and ask yourself the question, “What qualities does this person bring into the room?”, what are you present to?

This question doesn’t require long periods of thought and note-taking. This is a question to be answered in the moment, from your heart. The more you can leave your brain out of the equation, the better. Once you’ve answered this question, the next step is to acknowledge what you see, verbally.

Imagine Tom, a leader, has just asked Regina to stop helping other people, so that she can take on the work that will cause her own breakthrough (rather than staying safe by taking care of other people). Regina is frustrated by this, as she believes her generosity is a good thing. Seeing her confrontation, Tom acknowledges both it, and Regina’s greatness:

“Regina, I want to acknowledge you for your courage and your generosity. I’m clear that what I’m asking you to do is challenging, and I know that a lot of our team would really love to have your support. Your generosity is a tremendous blessing on this team — really, on any team. And having said all that, I’m also clear that it requires a lot of courage to set down that generosity, temporarily, so that you can create breakthroughs in new areas. Thank you for how you’re showing up.”

Seeing and reflecting someone’s greatness can at times be effortless and easy, and at other times, challenging and hard. Reflecting someone’s greatness is challenging in two main ways. The first challenge is our own confrontation.

The more confronted someone else is, the more their shadows will be apparent, and the more you will have to look past, or through, in order to get present to their greatness.

Being with someone who is confronted is confronting. The more confronted you are, the more your own shadows will be in the way of your ability to see the greatness over there. Assuming that you are immune from this fact sets you up to be oblivious to your own shadows and their impact. Instead, when you notice someone is confronted, consider that you too are confronted, and are best served by slowing down.

The second challenge is rooted in our fear that we will do it wrong. We have been trained that acknowledging someone in this manner is phoney, insincere, manipulative, or simply scaffolding to be put in place so that we can then share with them the “real” truth (which is typically some piece of feedback about how they suck or are being shitty). Because of this training, we either avoid giving acknowledgment altogether, or we artificially inflate it in an attempt to compensate.

Neither of these approaches are helpful. Instead, when reflecting someone’s greatness, the practice is to trust yourself. Trust that what you see is sufficient. And trust that the gift you have to offer (in your reflection and acknowledgment) is exactly that: a gift.

The art of reflecting and acknowledging greatness is a practice. You may not get it right the first time, and you may feel clumsy and unnatural in your attempts. Don’t let that stop you from continuing to practise. As you continue to shine light on the greatness you see in others, you will discover the power and potency that comes from giving someone the gift of being seen for the totality of who they truly are, rather than how they are showing up in the moment.

Finally, if you are unable to receive acknowledgement for your own greatness, you will be forever stymied in your attempts to provide that same gift to others. Be in an ongoing practice of asking for acknowledgment. Ask it from your coach or leader regularly. When taking on something especially confronting, practice courageously reaching out to people, and asking them for a reminder of your own greatness.

This is not being weak, needy or cloying. This is being courageous in the practice of leadership, by doing your own work first — even, and especially, when it’s uncomfortable.