Developing Leaders Using Flashlights and Mirrors

Written by Kevin Martlage

As a tree care business owner, you are faced with numerous decisions and issues surrounding your organization and team on a constant basis. How you approach those things ultimately rests on the shoulders of you as the leader of your company. While we all have various levels of success and issues we are dealing with, the backbone of any organization is the team that leads and runs the business. Certainly, our customers, vendors, suppliers, and equipment are all important, but without an effective team to take care of those things you are simply another tree care company searching for that next tree to prune. 

If I were to ask you how are you intentionally developing your current and future leaders what would you say? Could you honestly answer that question or does the typical business day cause too many hurdles and time constraints to effectively develop the team around you? If you are developing your team, great!! What then specifically are you doing to ensure that your team has all the tools and resources necessary to be successful, productive, and most importantly happy? Do they know what good looks like and how they can positively impact the organization daily? Those are all questions that are important to think about as you advance your organization and team with effective and intentional leadership development. 

I work with individuals and teams daily helping them identify what is “being left on the table” in terms of their overall strategy, teamwork, operational efficiency, and productivity. While my work with those clients is extremely fulfilling, it is the ability to help individuals look internally to understand themselves and how they can continue to impact their organization that is the most rewarding as a coach. This is where the concept of ‘Flashlights and Mirrors’ becomes relevant.  

That phrase, ‘Flashlights and Mirrors’ was introduced to me by my father who has spent a vast majority of his life crafting various workshops and trainings to help people, and teams, realize their full potential. The concept is one that I use with my clients and is something that I think can be very impactful if a leader fully embraces it as they develop their team to make a positive impact on the tree care industry.  

The concept is simple. As a leader, it is your responsibility to ensure that those on your team have not only the resources and understanding necessary to complete their job responsibilities, but also your support to reach their full potential.  The ‘flashlight’ in this equation is used to help “shine the light” on those areas that are important to them. The ‘mirror’ is then used to help them look internally to understand how they are impacting the organization, the team, and their professional development on a consistent basis. Your responsibility as a coach committed to transparent communication and support, is to help facilitate those conversations with your team. 

There are a variety of ways to use the ‘flashlight’ concept with your team when it comes to their development. However, the thing that turns it on the brightest is the question, “How can I help?” Not only does this open the discussion for further discovery, but it also helps to build trust which is super important as you develop your current and future leaders. Granted the responses can vary and have a lot of different outcomes, but as a leader it is your responsibility to take their response and help shine that flashlight a little brighter so you can both uncover what it is that they desire, need, and are passionate about. 

Some suggested questions you can use to help shine that flashlight are:

  • How can I help?
  • What support can I provide to help enhance your ability to lead your team or to do your job?
  • Are there any areas of your responsibilities that you feel you could use some additional training?
  • What are your career goals within this company and outside of this company?
  • Are you happy with the responsibilities you currently have?
  • Are there areas of the business that you wish you had more interaction or responsibility for?
  • What are you passionate about within this company? 
  • What are you passionate about outside this company? 

The list can go on and on. However, as a leader committed to developing your team, it helps to understand what it is that they are passionate about, want to achieve, are having difficulty with, or need help with. Once you begin to understand those areas, you can work with them to develop an action plan around how to alleviate those issues and achieve those goals. This then becomes their developmental plan which can be used as you continue to meet with them and develop them for the next step in their career.


The concept of using ‘mirrors’ is a bit different, but equally important. This is where, as a leader, you help them look internally regarding their own performance within the organization. This part of the equation can be as detailed or simple as your organization allows. However, the most important thing to remember is that the ‘mirror’ only shows facts and does not reflect emotion. 

The ‘mirror’ is used to help you have those transparent and important conversations with your employees that provide specific details regarding their performance and interactions as a member of the team. It is also meant to help you provide them with some invaluable insight into how they interact with others, support others, and impact the team and organization. 

To build your mirror you must first determine what “good” looks like for that individual and your organization. When we say “good” this includes developing and providing specifics about the culture of your organization, metrics you would like them to achieve, acceptable interactions and communication with others, and most importantly their ability to understand what is expected of them on a daily, weekly, monthly, and annual basis. Once developed and agreed to, this then becomes the ‘mirror’ that you consistently use to help them look at those things. By consistently, transparently, and intentionally providing them feedback regarding their performance in those areas, you are helping them to “look in the mirror” to remind themselves of what good looks like and how they are positively and negatively impacting those things. This will help continue to develop them personally as they work to achieve those goals and continue to positively impact the organization by looking inward first. 

The concept of “flashlights and mirrors” is simply a guide to how you can provide invaluable insight and development opportunities for your staff. The key to any of this is that you must be consistent with your development conversations while you build a trusting and effective business relationship with your team. If you would like to learn more about intentional leadership development, I would encourage you to look at the THRIVE program, and specifically the Leadership Development Package, for more details.