Put Your People Center Stage

Have you ever pitched your team’s ideas to your board? Or to your colleagues? If so, you’re not alone. Leaders often choose to be the spokesperson for their people’s work without realizing that it comes at a cost—a failure to foster your team’s autonomy, learning, and engagement.

Instead, move your people from backstage to center stage and nurture their growth and confidence. Encourage them to present their own projects, ideas, and problems. Expose them liberally, even to “high stakes” audiences, and you help them strengthen their skills through direct experience and experiential learning. By being a more secure leader in this area, you end up with a stronger team and elevate everyone’s effectiveness, including your own.

Why leaders hog the spotlight—even inadvertently

It sounds so simple, yet many leaders still keep their team backstage, by holding onto some common mindsets:

  • I prove my value to the organization by presenting my team’s work.
  • These may be their ideas, but it’s my group. The buck stops with me.
  • If they present their own work, what’s my value?
  • I’d better present this project, especially since we’re presenting to [“high stakes” person or audience.”The stakes are too high to put my people on the line for their own work.
  • I want to protect my team from being attacked. That project is in trouble; I should take the heat.
  • If I let them present their own work, I will lose control.
  • I would present it better.

How do you go behind the scenes?

First, it’s helpful to identify and challenge your mindset; the one that’s keeping you (and not them) center stage, when the stakes are higher. What thinking or fear on your part holds this behavior in place? Is it on the list above, or do you have a different mindset?

Then with a desire to change, support, and plenty of practice, you can take some simple steps to change the behavior.

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, behavioral feedback privately afterward.

In short, give them the freedom to do well, or, if needed, fail small, learn from it, and build skills for the next time.

By sharing, or even giving, the spotlight to your team, you become more of a participant. You may be pleasantly surprised—once you start gaining experience spotlighting your people, you‘ll probably want more of it. Most executives do. Not only will your team grow and evolve, but you’ll also receive greater respect and more engagement given what they can do and how you’re leading them.


David Peck is a Partner and US Lead for Executive Coaching at Heidrick Consulting. He’s been published extensively and is the author of Beyond Effective. Twitter: @coachdavidpeck

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