The Spotlight Effect: How Top Execs Can Reduce Anxiety and Boost Confidence

The spotlight effect is a common psychological phenomenon that can make leaders feel like they’re constantly under scrutiny.

I constantly would put myself under pressure but didn’t understand how to cope, how to deal with it, and certainly not how to soften the effects of it in my day-to-day life.

So what is it, how does it manifest itself and how do we deal with it?


When I was leading a big team I thought I was always under the spotlight or being watched. To make sure I was working as hard as everyone else, that I was making the right decisions, I was “following the rules”. But I soon realised, when the big team disappeared, this wasn’t true at all, it was a figment of my own imagination and I was putting increased pressure on myself.

So what is The Spotlight Effect?

That feeling of being constantly under the microscope is called the spotlight effect. It’s a psychological phenomenon that makes us believe we’re being noticed more than we really are. It turns out that understanding the spotlight effect can help you in your leadership positions feel less anxious and more confident. I want to explore the spotlight effect and offer some tips on how execs can use this knowledge to their advantage.

What’s the Spotlight Effect All About?

We all tend to think that our actions, decisions, and even our appearance are closely observed by others. This is because we’re the centre of our own universe, but we forget that we’re not the centre of everyone else’s. The spotlight effect is the tendency to overestimate how much attention we get, especially when we do something out of the ordinary.

The Spotlight Effect and Top Executives

For top executives, the spotlight effect can feel even stronger. The high-pressure environment and the visibility of decisions can lead to a heightened sense of scrutiny. This can result in increased anxiety, self-doubt, and difficulty making decisions. However, becoming aware of the spotlight effect can help you feel more confident and composed.

Tips for Overcoming the Spotlight Effect

a. Be Self-Aware: Recognising the spotlight effect is the first step to fighting its influence. By realising that you are not constantly being watched, you can develop a more realistic view of your social environment and reduce the anxiety that comes from feeling constantly observed.

b. Change Your Perspective: When facing high-pressure situations or important decisions, you should remind yourself that you’re likely overestimating how much attention you are getting. This can help you feel less anxious and make more rational decisions.

c. Focus on Others: Shifting the focus from yourself to others is a great way to reduce the impact of the spotlight effect. By concentrating on the needs, expectations, and viewpoints of others, you can get a more balanced view of your role and worry less about being constantly watched.

d. Be Open About Your Vulnerability: Accepting that making mistakes is normal and admitting your imperfections can help leaders fight the spotlight effect. By being open about your shortcomings, you can connect more authentically with your teams.

e. Ask for Feedback: Regularly asking for feedback from colleagues, team members, and mentors can help you get a more accurate idea of how you’re perceived. This can help you figure out the actual level of attention you’re getting and reduce the influence of the spotlight effect.

The spotlight effect is a common psychological phenomenon that can make leaders feel like they’re constantly under scrutiny. By becoming aware of this tendency and using strategies to counteract its effects, you can feel less anxious, more confident, and make better decisions. In the end, understanding and addressing the spotlight effect can lead to a more genuine and grounded leadership style that benefits both you and the company you work for as a whole.