Leadership is a 24-hour job.
Don’t misunderstand. Yes, you can sleep. You can take vacations. You can binge-watch your favorite Netflix series. You can even shut your office door and take a nap.
But…the responsibility of leading isn’t reserved for office time, staff meetings, or when you’re the talking head on Zoom.
Because they’re watching. Every day. All the time.
Your team members. Your department. Your company. Your vendors. Your customers.
They’re watching what you say. What you do. And they’re constantly wondering:
- Can I trust you? Do your actions match your words?
- Do you have my interests in mind, or is it all about you?
- Will I benefit from this relationship?
- Is there potential for me to get greater value from you in the future?
The spotlight is on.
And it’s bright. Really bright.
You can’t foresee every circumstance, problem, question, or event that will come flying at you during your leadership journey.
Supply chain issues. Geopolitical chess moves on the other side of the globe. The employee with mental health issues. The legislation that impacts your industry.
A global pandemic. 😱
The next black swan. 😬
But you can anticipate. You can prepare.
As you lead, consider how you will react to different circumstances. Decide what the proper action — or reaction — will be long before your spotlight moment.
Many leaders excel in managing crises because they react well in the moment. They think clearly when everyone else is panicked. They’re the calm in the eye of the storm.
But people who excel in crisis management often rely on that skill and they neglect preparation. So they’re in firefighting mode more often than they need to be.
And what about positive developments? Winning the big contract. Beating the major competitor. Finishing the project on time and on budget.
People aren’t just watching you in times of stress. They’re watching in times of celebration, too.
They’re watching all the time.
Sometimes you redirect the spotlight to others
When you are getting recognized for a significant achievement, one of the most powerful things you can do is redirect the spotlight to someone else on your team.
Recognition is a powerful motivator.
OC Tanner conducted an employee survey that included the question, “What is the most important thing that your manager or company currently does that would cause you to produce great work?”
By far, the most frequent response was “recognize me.”
Recognizing employees reinforces positive behaviors and facilitates a sense of purpose and meaning.
When you redirect the spotlight to another individual, you’re sending them a message.
You make a difference.
Some people want public recognition and the louder the better. Others prefer one-to-one recognition from the boss. From you.
You need to identify how your team members prefer to be recognized.
Look for opportunities to shine the spotlight on individuals on your team.
Some good opportunities include:
- An employee makes a significant contribution towards a big win for the company
- An employee exhibits a behavior that reflects your team’s core values in a demonstrative way
- An employee goes “above and beyond” on behalf of another team member
When you are recognizing an employee, make sure to be specific about the accomplishment or the behavior. Recognize them in real time. You want to reinforce the behavior, so the closer you are to the event / act / behavior the stronger the effect.
According to a study by Yuan Zou, assistant professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, “managers who elevate others are more likely to hold on to valued employees.”
The same study suggests that managers who recognize others are twice as likely as the average manager to be promoted to CEO.
Shine the spotlight on others. And your leadership star burns just a little bit brighter. Go figure.
Sometimes you share the spotlight
When your team achieves a goal or delivers an extraordinary outcome, sometimes you need to broaden the spotlight to include the team.
The whole team.
Marcus Buckingham, in his book 9 Lies About Work shared that no matter how we try to build and foster a company-wide culture, an employee’s perception of culture is based on what they experience on their team.
Buckingham also said that employees who participate on teams are likely to be two times more engaged at work than employees who are not on a team.
You want to foster team ownership of responsibilities. Recognize exceptional team performance. Reinforce the appropriate team behaviors.
But be careful.
This is not your team.
It is OUR team.
When you are approached about a recent success, don’t accept the congratulations personally. When they’re taking a picture or capturing a video, let them see the team. The faces. The humans.
As a leader, you can acknowledge the uniqueness of the individuals and the contributions they make to the team. To one another. To team success.
Make sure the message has a focus on Us. We. Ours.
Team members want to feel part of something bigger. They want to feel they’re doing important work — and being successful at it.
Get the wide-angle lens for that spotlight.
Sometimes you take the spotlight
The performance of the team, for good or for bad, is the responsibility of the leader.
When things go poorly, you need to stand in the spotlight.
Behind the scenes, you can determine what happened or who performed poorly.
But no scapegoats. No casting blame.
Good leaders accept the blame, they don’t shift it. When things go poorly, or results are less than expected, stand in the light, and take the heat. In the background, work with the team to determine what can be learned, then adjust and prepare to get better results the next time. That will ensure that the warm spotlight of recognition can shine on them the next time.
The Dale Carnegie organization surveyed 3,100 employees in 13 countries and found that the largest gap in leadership behavior between what matters to employees and what is perceived to be consistently demonstrated by their manager is: “admitting when they are wrong.”
Your willingness to take responsibility for poor results — or a mistake — can make that spotlight feel extraordinarily bright and uncomfortably hot.
But it also demonstrates transparency and vulnerability, which engenders trust. It helps earn the respect of your team.
Trust and mutual respect are the currencies that allow teams to thrive. Standing in the spotlight when it is uncomfortable enhances — not diminishes — your credibility as a leader.
According to the Carnegie research, a leader’s willingness to “admit when they are wrong” was the number-one tested behavior in terms of its positive impact on employees’ job satisfaction and intent to stay.
You’re not perfect. Nor is your team. Mistakes will get made.
Grit your teeth and stand in the spotlight. Then watch your team raise their effort when you do.
When you’re wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically. — Dale Carnegie
Sometimes shine the spotlight on growth and learning
When results fall short of the goal, or when mistakes are made, you have a unique opportunity to re-frame the reaction.
Acknowledge the disappointment. Determine how you can create a more favorable outcome the next time.
But sometimes you have a unique opportunity to shine the spotlight on behaviors. On growth. On learning…despite the unwanted results.
According to the book CEO Excellence, in 2012 DBS, the largest bank in Southeast Asia, was hacked by card skimmers. CEO Piyush Gupta investigated the breach and found that it was due to a decision made by a junior employee.
When asked why he made that decision, the employee said, “Because the way the card protector works increases the cycle time by ten to twelve seconds. We have long queues at our ATMs, so I made the trade-off that reducing cycle time to improve the customer experience was more important than the remote possibility of getting hacked.”
Bank regulators pressured Gupta to fire the employee, but Gupta refused. Rather than fire the employee, Gupta gave the employee an award. He explained, “this is exactly what I’m trying to create at DBS — the capacity to use your head and think and make choices.”
It may have been a $2 million lesson, but it signaled to all the DBS employees, that when they took risks and made decisions that they believed were in the best interests of the bank — the CEO had their backs.
Taking the heat. Learning. Building trust. Building culture.
Even when you redirect it — the spotlight is still on you
When you lead others, there are moments when you can influence where the spotlight shines.
When others excel, shine the spotlight on them. Let them and others know why and celebrate.
When the team does great work, shine the spotlight on the team. We. Us. Ours.
When mistakes get made and results are disappointing, you need to take responsibility. Shine the light on you. Visibility. Transparency. Accountability. Trust.
But also recognize that whether you like it or not, there is a spotlight that remains on you.
All the time.
9 Lies About Work shared a statistic that caused me to do a neck-breaking double-take:
People who trust their team leaders are twelve times more likely to be fully engaged at work.
Trust is critical to the performance of the team.
Trust is necessary for the leader to be effective.
Accept the fact that they’re watching.
- When it comes to the behaviors that you expect from team members, be the poster child of those behaviors.
- Before you expect team members to be held accountable, be accountable yourself.
- When you make a mistake, admit it to your team.
- Communicate clearly. Take responsibility to ensure you are heard AND understood.
- Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.”
- Don’t make excuses.
- Do what you say will you do.
They’re watching you. All the time.
Long-time Vistage speaker Vince Langley says, “Assume you have a sign in your office that says, You Have My Permission to Do Anything You See Me Doing.”
But maybe not a sign on your wall.
Maybe a tattoo on your forehead.
Acknowledge it. Embrace it.
Bask in the spotlight.