One of the most daunting things about being a leader is that you’re almost always being watched by your team, and that it almost always matters– even when you think the stakes are low or there are no stakes at all. There are always stakes in leadership. You’re putting a stake in the ground with every breath you take, every move you make, every bond you break, and probably a lot of other Police lyrics. You’re being stalked in an HR-acceptable fashion, so unless you have Narcissistic Personality Disorder (bravo for landing the perfect gig!), how do the rest of who aren’t annoyingly self-aggrandizing handle life in the giant fishbowl we’ve come to find ourselves in?
Accept that you signed up for this.
The day you said, “heck yeah” to becoming a manager/ supervisor/ team lead/ whatever your company calls it when you’re the boss of people, you lost all rights to anonymity at work. (You’re still allowed boundaries in your outside-of-work life and around what you share about that life at work.) Asking people to follow you and then resenting them for quite literally following you around the office (and maybe on social media too) means that maybe you don’t get the gist of the whole leadership power thing– that power can be a privilege ripe with advantages (like having access to valuable information, strategies, and better views from your office), and sometimes a burden rotten with disadvantages (employees hanging off your every word, reinterpreting every other one of those words, and judging you for not saying better words sooner and more often). It’s the yin and yang of leadership.
If you can’t get used to life in a stalker-y corporate fishbowl, you might like not being a manager of people. No shame. Many a celebrity has left Hollywood in pursuit of a paparazzi-free life to run a cattle ranch. You can do meaningful work without having a bossy title on your business card.
Understand how we operate as human beings.
People are listening to how you deliver underwhelming Q2 results (word for word), watching how you respond to Bill in IT when he gets all snarky, observing what time you arrive and what time you leave (especially on Fridays), making note of what you wear and what kind of glasses you just bought, checking out who you’re meeting with in the conference room with the door closed (and for how long)… and you know this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Why do you think your team is doing all this?
They’re all just exceedingly normal for being insecure. They’re trying to understand what’s really going on, trying to gain control of this thing called “work” that’s beyond their control but a little bit more within your control. If they observe you closely, maybe they’ll pick up on a clue that will help them be in-the-know, do a good job, be seen and appreciated, fit in, maybe keep their job, and maybe even get promoted to a job like yours. You know all this because you’ve had bosses you watched closely, too (and you probably still have a boss you watch closely).
Resenting your team members for stalking watching you is futile. Worry if and when they don’t scrutinize who you’re interviewing for the big supply chain role, what kind of car you just bought, and what you said to Reena (and how you said it) when she was late for the marketing meeting. If your team isn’t paying attention to you, you should be wondering why.
Be consummately self-aware.
Use the self-consciousness of knowing you’re on constant display to evaluate what you’re like to be around.
Reflect back on your last two weeks as a leader:
Were you a plus or a minus? If you were complaining about your incompetent CEO and your archaic laptop and how you need the team to REALLY STEP IT UP, then you’re probably a real joy to be around, Mr. Manager. Do you suck the energy out of the room, or infuse it with inspiration and ways to creatively solve the problems?
What did people see when they snuck glances at you? Were you running harried from one meeting to the next, making people feel like asses for asking you questions because you were 10 minutes late for the audit committee meeting? What’s that like to work for you?
If you’re having a hard time objectively seeing how others see you, consider asking a trusted ally at work or a coach for help.
Use the fishbowl to your advantage.
You have the ability to demonstrate what you want from your team, knowing that your highly-scrutinized actions speak so much louder than your words. Be the one to emulate what matters in your culture, whatever that might be (like maybe showing up early + prepared, being empathetic, making room for family/ health activities outside of work, being a spectacular listener, actually prioritizing your priorities, eating well, making the right amount of time for social interaction, recognizing creative ideas, embracing failure, etc.). Lead your team by example while they have the magnifying glass on you.
As a leader there are ample opportunities to be judged, and yes, there are a lot of people judging you unfairly just because you’re the boss—even if you did receive the Best Boss Ever coffee mug on your birthday. Yes, you’re on display. No, it doesn’t always feel fair, especially when you’re not on your A-game (and you have baby barf on the cuff of your suit jacket). Yet as leaders we’re compelled to strive for astonishing results through (hopefully) talented and (fingers crossed) engaged people—in spite of the scrutiny that’s part of the leadership package. Learn from and leverage the fishbowl. Embrace the stalkers.