Your move: Leaders act as if everyone is watching

Act as if everyone's watching

Even in the toughest of times, leaders act as if everyone is watching.

“It’s not a problem unless you get caught.”
“It’s not like she heard me.”
“He doesn’t have to know. We don’t have to tell him.”
“Those things are confidential so they can’t talk about it.”

Sound familiar? Perhaps, you’ve even said these things before without meaning any harm. These aren’t just things that our employees say. I’ve heard these exact words from organizational leaders and even Human Resources (HR) and Compliance professionals. Sometimes, it’s easier to let things go if we don’t think others will find out. It can be more convenient to take the shortcuts because we think it’ll still get us the same result without anyone noticing.

You don’t get in trouble if you don’t get caught, right? Well, the truth is you never really know. Whether we like it or not, when we are in a leadership position, we are on stage 24 hours per day and 7 days per week. We’re in the spotlight whether we’re at work, online or out painting the town red. We represent our work, our employees and our organizations no matter where we are or what we’re doing. 

So, how do we handle such pressure of being a leader? Live by one rule: always act as if everyone is watching. If we do this, we’ll have a better chance of always doing the right thing and doing the right thing means that we don’t have to remember and keep track of all our secrets or stories.

As leaders, we’re responsible for a lot of tough decisions and difficult conversations. We’re often forced to act quickly, which leaves us little time to thoroughly evaluate our decisions and their consequences. Even in times of turmoil, leaders must remember to do the right thing even though the right thing will not always make everyone happy

An example that I’ve seen many leaders struggle with is fair compensation. I’ve seen leaders and HR professionals engage in unfair pay distribution and defend it by convincing themselves that the employees will not talk to each other about their pay simply because it is the company’s policy. I’ve never actually seen this work in their favor but even if the employees never found out, it doesn’t make it okay. 

Even when it comes to confidential matters like pay or severance packages or employee relations concerns, leaders must act as if everyone is watching and do what they know is best. The most successful leaders I know always have ethics at the forefront of everything they do. 

My favorite analogy is a leader who told me that for every decision he has to make, he closes his eyes and pretends that he’s in the middle of a stadium with all the lights shining just on him. Then, he pretends that every single seat is filled with stakeholders and thinks about his decision within that context. You would think this adds more pressure but it actually takes off some pressure. If we always act as if everyone is watching, we’ll never have to wonder if they actually are or not.

So, what’s your next move? Will you act as if everyone is watching? I’d love to hear your stories and lessons learned.


18 thoughts on “Your move: Leaders act as if everyone is watching

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  16. My Mom often told me that you should never do or say anything that you would be ashamed to see printed on the front page of the newspaper (or that you would be embarrassed for your mother or father to know about). The core of that philosophy was not “try not to get caught”, but was instead that you should always act ethically, maintain good morals, and try to speak kindly, regardless of the message. In today’s world of instant digital footprints and smart phone cameras/recorders in a multitude of hands, the front page of the newspaper is likely the slowest of routes for revealing issues, but Mom’s advice remains sage and true. Your advice that leaders should act as if everyone is watching is a similar philosophy, though I think that it applies to everyone, but I agree that it is especially important for leaders because we are expected to be role models for others.


    • Cynthia, thank you for sharing the great advice from your mother. I really like that analogy of not doing or saying anything that we wouldn’t want to be printed on the front page of the newspaper. It’s important to always do the right thing regardless of whether people are watching or not.


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