Are You a Leader When No One is Watching?

I am in Las Vegas for a couple days attending a conference.  I do not visit Las Vegas very often, so it is always eye-catching to see the magnificence of the architecture and how technology seeps from every crevice of the city, especially in contrast to what many of the buildings represent.  The day in the conference center was filled with lots of great content.  I was a little slow leaving after it ended, from talking to people and answering some emails.

To exit the conference center to get to the hotel entrance one must walk a long corridor that leads into the middle of the Casino.  As I walked out of the corridor and made my way to the entrance I witnessed many of my colleagues attending to the festivities of the Casino.  Some of the same individuals that were calm, focused, and studious during the conference, were now zombies in front of a slot-machine. Some were already partying, drinking and gawking at the dancing girls overhead.  As I looked at this, a thought popped into my head. The thought was, “Are you a leader, when no one is watching?”

I am not making a statement about those activities.  I believe everyone has the freedom to do what they want, within reason. I do believe that too much of anything can be bad. In Las Vegas like many other cities, especially for a traveling businessman, it can be easy to get “lost”. There are infinite places that one could go to and no one would probably ever know. If what I was seeing was occurring only 30 minutes after the conference, I wondered what was in store for later in the night. I also wondered what colleagues had disappeared and gotten “lost”.

I thought about what a leader is and the thought popped into my mind, being a manager is a job, being a leader is a calling.  I know people who have been fired for activities at conferences. I know colleagues who lost some respect because of their lack of control at conferences. I have avoided purchasing from certain vendors and partnering with certain companies, because of what I have seen at late night activities. But what about numero uno, you? Are you ok with entering into a dimly lit area and participating in activities that you would not want your significant other to see? Or in activities you woudl not want your staff see?

As the night continued, I went and had sushi with a group of colleagues and vendors.  Yes they were drinking, but they were in control (well most were 🙂 ).  We had a lot of fun and I learned from my colleagues and built deeper relationships. I am not sure what happened after I left, but I am glad to know that there were others that exhibited control.
Those leadership lists that I hate so much came to mind and I thought that maybe they could be used in this situation.  It is the concepts of values and priorities in life. I think they should apply all the time, not only when you chose. If you value trust in your company, I think it would serve well to ask if the activity you are about to participate in will create or destroy trust in others.

In the morning, as the first keynote speech started at 7:15 am, I looked around and beheld that the room was barely 1/4th full.  In fact I could have probably stood up and counted everyone in a few minutes.  The sea of empty chairs seemed to be a sign of the previous night’s activities

Remember being a manager is a job, being a leader is a calling.

About Todd Nielsen

Todd Nielsen helps organizations create miracles of success and profitability through the power of execution. Having served as Vice-President, President, Chief Operations Officer, Chief Strategy Officer, and Chief Executive Officer of organizations, he has learned how to create a culture that "Gets Things Done." He is passionate about leadership, and is a dynamic and inspirational speaker.


  1. Well said, most tend to think leadership has time frames within which to be exercised. I have now realized how important control is.

    Keep writing about leadership, I enjoy reading your articles.

    Kind regards

  2. Stephan Weber says:


    This post really hit home! Leadership is a calling and when a person is in a position of authority this is the time, more than any other, where your actions and behaviours are being judged. Unfortunately ‘The Dark Side’ is very crafty and if one is not vigilant it is so easy to get blind sided and led off the path. I know this from personal experience.

    How do I stay on the path? When faced with a ‘situation of temptation I ask one question “What happens when I attain the lofty goal I have and my actions come to light?”

    Thank you for your inspiration

  3. Morals and values are two important issues many people don’t consider when they become a leader. As a leader, you influence people. Positively or negatively. As the blog stated, leadership is more than just a job, it’s a calling. And because you were called, you are judged at a higher standard than others. It’s important to note, you’re not just a leader some of the times, you’re a leader ALL the time.

  4. Leadership talent is not universial. Its ability to show depends not only on the willingness of the person posessing it to reveal it and let it flow but also on the circumstances being right.

    Having said this there are settings where a party animal, someone who is the last man standing at the bar at 7am in the morning is the one people will follow with a passion unseen before. And there are settings where someone who greets his collegues with an email at 7am saying that last night he got the key issue in subroutine XYZ solved and will brief everybody about it during the 9am meeting is the one who will inspire and lead to new heights.

    No matter if a person is blessed with or without leadership talent, he or she is most likely to end up in a fitting setting if he or she is true to himself or herself. Be who you are. Your life is about you and not what other people have on their minds. Steve Jobs put it into the nice phrase: “Life is too short to live (…) by the results of someone else’s thinking.”

    I am a business consultant over 40 but as a kid of the ’80s still draw more attention on the club dancefloor than many guys half my age. However what leader would I be if I would think endlessly of what someone else may think should he or she get to see me “dacing my §§§ off” (to quote a famous saying of that time back then) either at a club or on youtube, where I most likely have some hits somewhere with a smartphone vid that some youngster did.

    If someone else has an issue with my dancing then that is not an issue with me but with him- or herself. Someone elses thinking is the result of who they are and maybe they only feel uncomfortable with what they see, because they cannot or no longer dance like me or could but are afraid to act like they feel even if they have a talent for the dancefloor.

    Being a leader is not about pleasing others but being (among other things) a genuine inspiration. People will always look for ways not to link up with you because of their own issues, most of all insecurity. If you do not trust your life-experience and instincts on choosing people, you hire an agency to look for pics and ivds of your candidate in social networks or are as ruthless to ask for their facebook handle and password.

    If one has the talents of leadership, one first of all has a vision for oneself. That vison one does follow with trust and confidence in oneself and it shows. If that intimidates others or raises their own issues inside them, let it be. You will find what is right for you as a leader or as a human being in general only if you are yourself.

    And yes in the end this reduces by far the number of people qualified for so-called “leadership-positions”. But eversince von Clausewitz almost 200 years ago we know how few leadership talents are out there and that no matter what: Leadership can not be taught or learned and depends on the settings.

  5. It gives feeling that dealing with human being is not an easy task. Being a leader carries more art as well as concious efforts. Hitler was a leader and many people committed to fight and even die after listening to his speech and guidance. The case can be different no matter whether the result is moving towards the benefit of majority of public or not.

  6. Nice article and so true! I have witnessed this in alot of companies and their parties. Certainly the respect and reliability of a person starts with -100. (in my opinion).

  7. Todd, like your thought process on this one, spot on again! Leaders should consider the impact they have on others all the time, leadership isn’t something you can switch on and off when you want to, it’s about the way you are, the way you behave, all the time.
    Have to say I love Vegas to!

  8. Marie-Chantale Major says:

    I have so many stories about man and woman at my work that I could write a book …A story that can last as long as Harry Potter…But guilt is more present in a woman then a man ..That’s a sad result of me research.
    Thank you for sharing , it is very interesting …

  9. I could not agree more. This week, I attended an education conference in Orange County had a similar experience. There are no secret places today. We should all expect that everything we do could end up on YouTube.

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