Leaders: Opening a Window to the Unknown You


What did you see the last time you looked in the mirror?

  • Were you surprised by (yet another!) new wrinkle?
  • Maybe you suddenly realized a haircut was past due?
  • Perhaps, it was the same tried and true smile you saw looking back.
  • Or, maybe it took you a second to recognize your own face, to see beyond the mask that was representing you at that moment, revealing only those characteristics of yourself that you were willing to allow others to see.

No matter what you saw, or think you saw, there is undoubtedly more to the picture that what was in the mirror.

You see, there are many different images, reflections, personas, faces, and interpretations to the person that looks back at you in the mirror at any given moment.

Seeing Yourself. Revealing Yourself.

Undoubtedly, you are fully engaged in many relationships, sharing and revealing aspects of yourself and your life with others to whom you feel close.

In other situations, you may favor a more conservative approach, so you keep information about yourself closer to the vest.

Knowing what, and how much to reveal about yourself is a challenge in all relationships at one point or another. For leaders in particular, such challenges occur with some frequency as they try to balance the need to develop trusting relationships with the hope of engaging employees on various levels, while at the same time establishing appropriate boundaries within those relationships.

The Johari Window

The Johari Window

The Johari Window provides a means to help better understand and explain group dynamics.  Four quadrants delineate between what we and others know (or don’t know) about ourselves, and how much we are willing to reveal about ourselves to others. The four quadrants are:


Things that you know about yourself and that others know about you. This would include issues that are common knowledge such everyone’s role in the organization, or knowing how many children a colleague has as a result of your informal conversations or having seen photos on his desk.


Those characteristics that others can see in you, but you do not see in yourself.  Studies indicate that supervisors often evaluate themselves more positively than do their employees. So, while you may think you are being crystal clear with your expectations, staff may be frustrated with your communication, or lack thereof. Alternately, your off-the-cuff acknowledgements of staff accomplishments may have much more of an impact on satisfaction and appreciation than you know.


These are the things you keep to yourself. Perhaps your employees would be shocked to hear that you dread speaking publicly given your frequent presentations; or, maybe they assume that your professional attire is a choice that reflects your position when, in reality, you always wear long-sleeves to cover a tattoo or scar.


Issues that neither you nor others know. For example, your company may be targeted for a takeover; or someone’s currently undiagnosed illness may have serious implications for staffing.

At both the individual and organizational level, this model offers leaders’ guidance on disclosure and self-evaluation. One way to better understand the model is to use one of many exercises that help leaders (and group members) gain a better sense of who they are and how they appear to others.

And there are multiple benefits from going through this practice!

On Self-Disclosure

Research suggests that self-disclosure, the intentional act of revealing personal information, helps reduce perceptions of status difference, which can lead to greater participation in discussions, more feedback across teams and increased feelings of respect.

Self-disclosure also leads to greater liking, which leads to greater self-disclosure because we feel safe disclosing to people that we like.  A potentially even greater benefit is the opportunity for thoughtful self-evaluation from having received feedback that addresses those aspects of yourself for which you have no awareness.

Self-disclosure also helps:

  • increase self-awareness
  • build trust
  • develop and maintain relationships
  • lead to feelings of closeness with those to whom you disclose
  • create a safe and supportive environment

On a very pragmatic level, creating better, more participatory relationships can lead to greater job satisfaction, job productivity, and involvement.

Leadership Impact

Of course, disclosure should be appropriate to the relationship and the situation.  It’s important to build up to appropriate levels of self-disclosure to avoid “over-disclosing.”

This could make those to whom you are disclosing feel uncomfortable and potentially have a negative impact on the relationship. This is especially true for leaders.

Ultimately, however, as self-disclosure increase, the “open” quadrant of our own Johari Window become bigger as we learn and reveal more about ourselves as a result of feedback from others.

Self-disclosure offers great opportunities on multiple levels.  As the leader of your organization, it is incumbent on you to support, or perhaps even initiate appropriate disclosure.

How comfortable are you self-disclosing to your peers at work? To your employees?  Are you letting your own hesitancy or discomfort limit your interactions? How might you establish a culture that supports appropriate self-disclosure?


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Andrea M. Pampaloni, Ph.D.

Andrea M. Pampaloni, Ph.D is AMP Consulting
She provides Organizational Communication Consulting & Research Focused on
Relationship-Building and Presentation of Image
Email | LinkedIn |  Web

Image Sources: Image Sources: jobsearchexpertise.com

L2L Contributing Author


  1. Doug Ramsey on October 30, 2013 at 3:56 pm

    A nice piece, Andrea. An oldie but a very good model. I have used it successfully for many years. I have a video and a question and scoring instrument (a bit dated) that is very effective. In my experience, disclosure and feedback are essential in establishing trustworthiness in communications. It is also a very good professional development process in helping people understand how they see themselves and how others see them. The blind spot is a very good area for individual reflection and development. Not as deep an approach as is needed for consciousness growth and awakening but one of the better OD intervention options in a team building design. Thank you for the learnings.

    • Andrea M. Pampaloni, Ph.D. on October 31, 2013 at 8:42 am

      Thanks for your comments, Doug. I agree with your views, particularly regarding blind areas. While there is certainly benefit to be had from a candid self-assessment, it often is not a pleasant experience and, thus, “justifiably” often avoided. As leaders, it’s also easier (and more comfortable) to focus attention on others and our relationships with them versus taking a more inward perspective.