As a leader, you are in the spotlight 100% of the time. You might not always be aware of it, and its intensity likely varies day to day, but make no mistake--it is always on.
You may not like this fact, but it is a fact of life as a Leader. What you say, how you say it, and of course your actions are always potentially being scrutinized, so rather than resisting it, I suggest you make friends with it. The 3 tips I share here may help.
1. Align your words and actions with the spotlight
Move through your day embracing the fact that you are a Leader. I don’t mean this in an ego-based way, but in a “being of service” kind of way. It’s as if there is an “ON AIR” sign over your head most of the time. It doesn’t mean you need to dwell on it. It does mean that you maintain at least a low-level awareness so that your leadership role gets to be present in terms of what you say, what you write, how you respond to situations, and where, when and how you choose to engage with people, especially informally. This means that even when you are out with some team members for a beer after work, you are still the Leader and you are still “on the air.”
2. Find a safe place to vent (hint: It’s never with your team)
You’re human and there are going to be times when you need a place to share your frustrations. (And by the way: if there were never frustrations, there probably wouldn’t be a need for a Leader.) The key is to vent with a very trusted person, likely someone at home and in private. It’s probably not someone at work, UNLESS they are a VERY trusted colleague. But with your team? Just don’t do it. As in ever.
But that seems so fake, you say. I want people to feel like they can relate to me. Here’s a re-frame: you get to practice showing up as the way you would want your own leader showing up—as positively as possible, while also definitely acknowledging when something feels crappy, but always (or as much as possible) looking for the positive somewhere in it. If there’s nothing positive about it, then your job is to help create a solution, which might mean advocating for a change or brainstorming a workaround.
3. Be a leader, not a buddy
You don’t get to be buddies with your people. You can love them (and I hope you do), care about them, commiserate lightly with them, laugh with them, cry with them—authentically in every case. You can develop wonderful, warm professional relationships with them. (Here comes the “But”—you knew it was coming, right?)
However, my stand on this is that you are not their “all in” buddy. Buddies get to complain to one another. Buddies are good and we all need them. As a Leader, that’s not your role, and you will seriously undermine your ability to lead if you go there. Consider that there is a line you don’t cross. And while the line may not always be 100% clear to you, if you pay attention, you will begin to develop your intuition about it. Your “Spidey sense” will start to tingle when you venture near it.
BONUS TIP (woot!)
Be proactive when your team complains
What you can say when your people are complaining and you don’t have a ready answer (could be about a new policy, for example, and you don’t have all the facts yet)
“I can see how this looks challenging. Let me do some digging and see what I can find out. I’ll get back with you by the end of the week about it.”
If it’s a policy that likely won’t be changing any time soon
“I know it’s a change, and change is never easy, including for me. At our next [one-on-one/team meeting/whatever], let’s brainstorm how we can implement the change and maybe even use it to our advantage, if possible, to help us get our deliverables done in a better way.”
Let’s Wrap This Up
Being a leader doesn’t mean you don’t have doubts, fears and frustrations, and it certainly doesn’t mean you have to appear to be perfect. The fact is, Leadership can sometimes feel like a series of FGO’s—“Freaking Growth Opportunities.” Consider the FGO’s one of the primary systems that helps you develop into being an even better, more confident leader.
By embracing that you are nearly always “on the air”—and acting in ways aligned with this fact—you will grow your confidence and effectiveness in leading your team.