by Michael Holland    

Are you using a spotlight or a floodlight when you review an employee’s performance?  A spotlight is directed, tight, and narrow in its focus, able to illuminate specific targets, like an actor on a stage.  A floodlight is broad, less discriminating, and wide in dispersing light to see more of what’s actually going on.

Spotlights can be very effective in the right environments, but are terribly ineffective when used in the wrong places.

  • Highlighting the One – A spotlight shined upon a single singer during a duet performance leaves someone in the dark. Though we can hear the music, we give all of our attention to that one person.  When manager focuses on the success of one employee alone, he may be missing the role others played in that success.
  • Too Lazy to Change the Light – Quickly moving a spotlight across a stage to try to catch all the actors may show each actor for a second, but it wastes a lot of energy and time.  Changing to a floodlight will illuminate more space at any given time, allowing for more to be seen by providing appropriate illumination to all participants.  As a manager, running from meeting to meeting and email to email, are you rushing around with a spotlight focus? Or are you taking a moment to soak in the full view of a situation, conversation, or email?  Change the light and broaden your view to see all that’s going on and to make good, informed decisions.
  • Time to Fire – Looking at the performance of an employee over 12 months with a spotlight perspective will give you keen insight to specific points in time, revealing specific behaviors and results.   This is fully appropriate when you are seeking examples to illuminate your feedback.  But when the spotlight is used to only pick out the examples of bad behavior in order to substantiate a rash decision on firing an employee, you are likely to miss circumstantial evidence of how you and others may have played a role in the poor performance.

Your focus and perspective are biased from the get go, but you can choose to adjust the lighting to help you gain perspective. In the end, you will think your decisions are right whether you adjust or not.  But what will your employees or peers or bosses or customers believe?   To lead well, a manager must make new choices and adapt new behaviors to increase their capacity to lead.

Coaching Thoughts – For You and Your Peers

  • Think of a time when adjusting your perspective (going from a spotlight to a floodlight) influenced a decision you made. How might it have turned out if you hadn’t done so?
  • Why do you think it is so important for leaders to be able to make new choices and adapt new behaviors?
  • This Leadership Learning Moment describes the positives of using a broad floodlight to illuminate perspective. But are there some situations when a spotlight focus could be a good thing? If so, what might some of those be?