Conscious Leadership: Sharing the Spotlight

“A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.” – James Keller

When my daughter was five years old, her face was smudged with chocolate before lunch one day. When I asked if she had eaten all the cookies in the kitchen, she cast her eyes downward and whispered, “No.” The desire to avoid presumed punishment overrode what she knew to be true.  She didn’t know what the consequences might be and assumed it was better to not tell the truth. This uncertainty made her feel unsafe. Just as a child may tell a white lie to avoid negative consequences, employees will omit or manipulate the truth to ensure they don’t look bad in the eyes of authority. But if they feel safe, they are willing to offer their perspectives even if it rubs against their leaders’ views

We all understand the literal meaning of using one candle to light another—the first candle does not become dim in the act of granting more light. In fact, the combined flames make the room even brighter.

Metaphorically, the same result happens when Conscious Leaders demonstrate the importance of shining the spotlight on individuals and teams who made a difference within the organization.  The company performance is illuminated. 

In many organizations, the person with the best idea lands the account, or wins the contract, or gets public recognition. But was it a solo effort?  No. When a CEO is interviewed for a high-profile magazine, do they recount the many times it was a solo accomplishment? No.  

As a Conscious Leader, it’s your job to change the concept of “taking the credit” to “giving credit,” by example. 

A colleague shared a story with me recently about her first-hand experience with taking credit where credit was not due.  “Susan” was a VP at a mortgage bank back in the early 2000s.  Her office was next to the Marketing Director, who was tasked with finding a way to get the loan officers to visit Real Estate brokers for significant face-time with potential partners and share marketing material.  In many cases, the loan officers simply put the material in the mail, therefore limiting their opportunities to build relationships. Susan suggested a way of packaging the material that was clever, well branded and impossible to go through the USPS.  It was a big hit with the loan officers, the realtors and the company’s profits.

At the next company-wide sales meeting, the owner gave the Marketing Director the spotlight and congratulated him on a successful promotion.  While Susan was sitting right next to him, he accepted the praise and took all of the credit for the idea. Did he think his light would dim if he shared the praise with Susan?  

Later that day, he stopped by her office and asked, “Now what am I going to do next quarter?” Her reply was, “I’m sure you’ll think of something great all by yourself.”  His nervous laugh lasted only a few seconds, while he quickly exited her doorway. They never spoke another word about it, and in that one instance, he lost her respect and trust.

Although this story happened more than 15 years ago, Susan can not only recall the scenes perfectly, she also vowed to always share the spotlight whenever possible.  As a Conscious Leader, her praise comes in the forms of personal emails and company-wide announcements. As a result, she often receives messages from her staff about how much they appreciate her support and collaboration.  As she progressed through her career and changed companies, her staff often followed her from a place of mutual respect.

A big part of becoming a Conscious Leader is acknowledging the lessons we’ve learned from our own experiences, and improving the stories that are remembered and shared. 

As I’ve progressed in my career, I’ve felt blessed to have mentors who showed me how to be a leader who has strong awareness skills.  Like Susan, I also acknowledge the value in difficult experiences. It’s critical that we devote our time to shifting the culture from the experiences we had, to creating the experiences we want others to have.  Sharing the spotlight is an invaluable component to building the necessary trust your employees need in order to tell you the truth without fear of retribution. 

Conscious action: Embrace the next opportunity to praise an employee publicly. Gratitude and appreciation will not only brighten that person’s day, it will make your entire organization shine too.