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Mirror, Mirror on the Wall...Reflecting on Extraordinary Potential

2/9/2005 --

Research looks at optimizing performance in work organizations by creating Reflected Best-Self portraits.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – When you look in the mirror, what do you see? A top performing star? A true blue friend? Is that your best self staring back at you?

Researchers at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and at Harvard Business School say that composing a personal Reflected Best-Self (RBS) portrait is central to realizing one's potential and achieving extraordinary heights in work and life.

Michigan professors Jane Dutton, Gretchen Spreitzer and Robert Quinn, doctoral candidate Emily Heaphy and Harvard professor Laura Morgan Roberts suggest that organizations can benefit from allowing employees to do what they do best, focusing on their individual strengths and placing only secondary emphasis on managing their weaknesses. Leaders, they say, can create high-performing organizations by creating high-performing individuals.

Defining Reflected Best-Self
Achieving your "best" is often characterized by being true to yourself while performing to your highest potential, according to the researchers. It is not measured against the performance of others, nor is it based solely on how others perceive you. It is your own strength-based conception of the qualities and characteristics you display.

Your RBS portrait is created based on your perceptions of how others see you. Family members, friends and acquaintances and organizations provide feedback about who you are. This information becomes integrated into your self-concept.

In the work world, composing a self-portrait can be challenging, the researchers say, as the feedback people receive through performance evaluations can be sporadic and negatively focused. This leads to a skewed view of one's true abilities and value.

Fine Tuning Your Reflection
Changes or revisions in one's RBS happen when a person experiences a "jolt" or a surprising event that triggers new self-awareness. A central premise of the paper is that people respond accordingly to positive and negative input and are only able to revise their self-image, or RBS, through a significant combination of resources and "jolts."

Organizations that encourage employee growth opportunities through what the researchers outline as formal and informal challenges, help people shape their self-perceptions. Similarly, receiving appreciation or praise in formal or informal settings helps people change their RBS for the better.

On the Road to Extraordinary
It is through the interpretation of a lifetime of reflection and interaction with others that a person forms his or her self-image. Further, it is the desire to be seen in the best possible light that creates a pathway to what the researchers call becoming extraordinary.

"Becoming extraordinary is about a pursuit of potential, a never-ending journey with new joys to uncover," said Dutton. "The journey of becoming extraordinary is ongoing and evolving over time, with no discernable final end state.

"By understanding how individuals continually evolve into the reflected best-self, without comparing them to other individuals, we can determine how to generate extraordinary contributions and performance in work organizations."

Related story: Ross Professors Appear in Harvard Business Review

Written by Nancy Davis

For more information, contact:
Bernie DeGroat
Phone: (734) 936-1015 or 647-1847