I was standing before a group of managers and supervisors with whom I’d been meeting monthly for exactly one year. Each month we had explored those things “leaders ought to know,” but which too often get overlooked, underestimated or disregarded completely. On this, our 12th session together, I began our group discussion with a simple question.
“So, it’s been a year,” I stated flatly. “How are you different today, as a leader, than you were one year ago?”
The question caught the group unprepared. Participants immediately saw the need to inspect their fingernails or the ceiling tiles. None seemed willing to make eye contact. I just waited. Eventually, a couple of them ratcheted up the courage to offer some over-simplified self-evaluations like: “Well, I think I’m a better listener,” or “I’ve been trying to get to know my followers better.”
Embracing the Leadership Spotlight
It was then that one of the younger members of the group spoke up. This young man, in his late 20’s, had been in his first supervisory role for less than three years. Quiet by nature, I was surprised to hear him speak up voluntarily.
“I’m different in every way,” he began. “Phil, a year ago in our first session you said something that caught my attention. You stated that as a supervisor — as a leader — our actions and attitudes are always in the spotlight, always being scrutinized. I knew that was true — over the years I’d watched my supervisor closely. I watched the way he talked and the way he reacted under pressure. I studied his body language, facial expressions and voice inflection. I learned who and what he liked — and who and what he didn’t. Along the way I mentally processed those observations, interpreting them based on my past experiences, assumptions and perceptions.
But, Phil, I’ve got to admit, before that day I had never considered that someone might be doing the same to me. I thought of myself as just one of the guys. I now realize that’s not how they saw me. I was their leader, or at least they expected me to be. It finally dawned on me that others are watching and studying me. It’s me that’s in the spotlight. As a result, literally every day since that first session I’ve worked to consciously choose what I would do or say, or how I would act or react to various situations, understanding the spotlight is on me and everyone is watching.”
I couldn’t have been more proud. One of my training participants had come to realize that the best leadership is intentional, not accidental. Employees will always be watching. With that in mind, leaders ought to choose their actions and words carefully, remembering the leadership spotlight is bright, forever illuminating and quite unforgiving.
What about you? What do you find most difficult about working in the leadership spotlight? What are your best ideas for managing the constant scrutiny? Please share your comments.
Phillip Van Hooser
Leadership Expert, Keynote Speaker
Author of Leaders Ought to Know: 11 Ground Rules for Common Sense Leadership