It’s all too common for an executive to be the spokesperson for their people in high-visibility / high stakes situations. Yet it’s often good leadership to do the exact opposite.
By focusing the visibility spotlight on your people, you enhance their contributions and learning, and upgrade your own ability to participate, gaining useful perspective on their solutions, ideas, and results.
In many organizational cultures, and among too many executives, there’s an unrealistically inflated assessment of the stakes involved in high-visibility meetings, and a pattern of not yielding the spotlight to those who did the work. So the team works hard yet often aren’t the ones presenting the products of their efforts. They find it de-motivating and marginalizing to stand in the shadow of their exec.
This problem is evident in the coaching work I do with senior executives in many different industries and companies. While interviewing my new clients’ colleagues and team members, I’ll hear about his or her “annoying” tendency to hog the spotlight. They’ll say at key top executive meetings and presentations my client will typically be the one presenting, rather than those on their team. When there’s a question, they might even answer it, rather than channel it to the correct member of their team, assuming they’ve even been invited to attend.
I’ll hear from direct reports, “If only Jane would let us present our work, it would be much more motivating…" And from colleagues, “We’d like to see Jack spotlight his people, and let them do some of their own talking at our leadership meetings…”
I find this pattern rooted in a leader’s habit, or a desire (or their perception of their organization’s cultural need) to prove their own value. It can also be about their need to be controlling, or an inflated ego. With some simple steps, support, and plenty of practice, the behavior can be changed in many cases. And once the executive starts gaining experience spotlighting their people, they want more of it.
If you have a tendency to speak on behalf of your team, I challenge you to create more opportunities for them to speak for themselves. Invite them to senior meetings you attend, and be watchful and supportive. Provide kind, necessary, honest, and private feedback after the event, and allow a certain latitude for them to do well, or, if needed, fail small, learn from it, and move on.
Sharing and even yielding the spotlight to your people, you’ll find yourself open to being more of a participant with your colleagues, and begin to be complimented not only on what your team can do, but on how you’re leading them.David Peck
Principal and Senior Executive Coach
Goodstone Group, LLC