A critical element of successful leadership is appreciating the spotlight. Leaders are in the spotlight. People are watching them. Closely. Assiduously. They’re the subject of the floodlights’ glare. The aperture is set for widest exposure where all images are captured with precise focus. As such, leaders’ actions are magnified and the shadows behind looms large, both clear for all to see, and, importantly, to interpret.
For those that report to them, leaders are the most important part of the day. Leaders coordinate activity, assign duties, determine deadlines, appraise performance, and, metaphorically or sometimes literally, sign the check. In all organizations, leaders model conduct–how to address colleagues, how to express alternative opinions, how to handle a crisis, how to advance initiatives–and thus create culture. They are prisms of refracted spotlight, illustrative of perception, reception, and action.
Leaders are equally in the perpetual gaze of external constituents. From competitors to investors, vendors to regulators, every decision is being surgically examined to infer, deduce, and appraise the implications. It’s hard to keep track of stakeholders, as the directional or reciprocal impact can be far down the value chain. But make no mistake, they’re watching. Every decision serves as an anecdote from which generalizations are intuitively produced.
The spotlight is especially bright for cannabis business executives (CBEs). CBEs face all the challenges of executives and founders across industries, but they undergo even more scrutiny because the industry is so new and, to some, disreputable.
Internally, the impact of each decision is significant as standard behavioral practices form.
There may be an ample current workforce of votaries, but the future workforce is wondering about and watching to see if the cannabis business is a place to make a career. Talking enlightened practice is one thing; practicing enlightened practice is another. More than other places, the climate and composure of cannabis businesses are being considered by the talent that will construct the next creation.
Externally, the spotlight becomes a blinding sun. Lawmakers, regulators, investors, the press, consumers, and others are primed to see the launch and early developmental stages of the cannabis industry as problematic. Each misstep will be amplified and analyzed to serve to confirm preconceptions. Unlike established industries, the cannabis business cannot fall back on its reputation. From a reputational standpoint, it starts in the red. Main Street, Wall Street, and the Capital are all eyes wide open.
The good news is that being in the spotlight means that good conduct, smart decisions, and ethical standards will be noticed, big time. Small steps have a big impact, especially when thrust into bright lights and sharp shadows. The spotlight is an opportunity for CBE’s to shine.
Here are some simple, small steps that can have a big impact.
Mainly, you’re one of many shepherds of the cannabis industry. As a shepherd, know that the cannabis business is fragile. Well led, its fragility becomes its strength. Meritorious stewardship—here advanced as simple, small, sensible steps – will have an outsized impact. Being in the spotlight at this moment in the growth and development of the cannabis industry constitutes a rare opportunity to demonstrate your ethical practice and deep concern for the community’s well-being.
There are no second chances when making a first impression. Especially when under the spotlight.
James R. Bailey is Professor and Stacy and Jonathan Hochberg Fellow of Leadership Development at the George Washington University School of Business, and a Fellow in the Centre for Management Development, London Business School. He has been the recipient of many teaching distinctions, including three GWSB Outstanding Educator Awards. In 2006 he was named one of the world’s top ten executive educators by the International Council for Executive Leadership Development. He has published over 50 academic papers and case studies, and is the author of five books, including the award-winning, best-selling Organizational and Managerial Wisdom and the forthcoming Lessons on Leadership. He has designed and delivered hundreds of executive programs for firms like Nestle, UBS, Conoco-Phillips, and Goldman Sachs, as well as several major law firms and US Congressmen. Dr. Bailey is a frequent keynote speaker who has appeared on broadcast programs for the BBC, NPR, and Fox News Channel, and whose work has been cited in such outlets as the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Forbes, and Business 2.0. He is a frequent contributor to The Hill, Washington Post, Washington Business Journal, and Harvard Business Review. He is the past Editor-in-Chief of the Academy of Management Learning and Education. Professor Bailey has served as a dean, department chair, and program director during his 20 year academic career, and has been a visiting professor at London Business School, University of Michigan, and the Institute of Management Development (Switzerland). His practitioner-oriented essays appear on the website Lessons on Leadership (lessonsonleadership.org).
Thomas Larsen and Samuel Martin are business associates and freelance writers .
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