4 Takeaways from the Leadership Spotlight


Employees are always watching their leaders. Intentional leaders realize this and understand the takeaways from the leadership spotlight. Here’s what I mean.

I was standing before a group of managers and supervisors with whom I’d been meeting monthly for exactly one year. Each month we explored foundational leadership concepts that 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. So 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.”


It was then that one of the younger members of the group spoke up. This young man, in his late 20s, 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 were 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 leadership 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.

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This young leader’s discovery underscores several critical takeaways from time in the leadership spotlight:

  • Self-awareness is crucial: Leaders must continually assess how they are perceived by others, understanding that every action can influence their team’s morale and performance.
  • Leadership requires intentionality: Effective leadership is not about accidental successes but about making deliberate choices that align with clear objectives and values.
  • Continuous improvement is essential: Leaders should embrace the journey of personal and professional growth, always seeking to enhance their skills and understanding of their role.
  • Realizations propel growth: Sometimes, a simple yet profound realization can pivot a leader’s approach, leading to significant personal and professional development.

reflecting on YOUR approach LEADERSHIP

And if this story has you inspecting your personal leadership approach instead of your fingernails or the ceiling tiles, consider these questions for an even deeper evaluation.

  1. How has your perception of yourself as a leader changed in light of understanding how others—your team, peers, and superiors—view and respond to your actions and leadership style?
  2. What intentional changes have you implemented in your leadership practices over the past year to positively influence and respond to the constant observation from your team?

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? What leadership takeaways have you uncovered? I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Phillip Van Hooser

Phillip Van Hooser, CSP, CPAE, Founder & Chair, Van Hooser Leadership. A seasoned leadership expert, keynote speaker, and author, Phillip Van Hooser is passionate about developing intentional leaders who can effectively engage and empower their employees to deliver powerful results. His most recent book is “Earning The Right To Be Heard," a primer for creating greater influence and opportunities. Connect with Phil on LinkedIn.


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