Inside the Fishbowl

Inside the fishbowl

How the workplace is dangerously like a fishbowl for leaders


Aquariums are an interesting place to observe. On the outside, it’s a relaxing atmosphere – watching the interaction, scuffles and intricacies of daily life for fish.

To take a look from the other side. A domesticated tank pet with nowhere to hide. Every day, people watching your every move. Also, expect the daily tap on the glass to elicit a reaction from you.

I’ve seen this analogy used previously when discussing leadership roles. Every day, you live in a “fishbowl” where everything you do and say is scrutinised. In addition to the constant scrutiny, you are expected to set the tone for how your company should operate and implementing new tacts. These counterproductive requirements, for me, have been the biggest stumbling block in moving into a leadership role.

In moving into a leadership role, you have to take responsibility for the business – past and present. In taking on my new role, I have to take responsibility for how the business was operated prior to my doing so. Unpicking issues of how projects were onboarded, run and managed, how expectations were set to the team, accountability issues, re-educating clients..the list goes on. All whilst being closely watched by team who see you flailing, and are none-the-less continuing to tap the glass when there’s already enough disruption in the tank.

How can you represent progress and productivity in your company?

Now, don’t take too much of this from me as I still feel like I’m trying and failing at. However, the importance is to set pillars in your leadership that you want to adhere to. Flexibility and tailoring of those pillars are needed, but should not change or be moved. This is something I’m currently working on outlining for myself, as currently our culture internally is to change the pillars on a per case, per scenario basis in order to keep the peace.

There is, though, a set of principles that are worth championing and being aware of in order to best minimise the effect of the fishbowl:

Actions Speak Volumes. Nothing goes unnoticed in the fishbowl. Your team will take direction from you as much as from your words. If you show up to work looking disgruntled, you’re telling your coworkers to do the same. If you have a bad day, they probably will too. That doesn’t mean you have to smile and say “good morning” every day, but it helps when you’re a leader. It’s vital for the company’s success that you arrive with a positive attitude.

They See. The people you lead are watching you from the moment you enter the office until you leave. They’re looking for nonverbal cues on how to act at work, how to feel about the company, and how to approach problems. Your job is to not only direct but also to model organisational behaviour on what is and isn’t acceptable. Work hard, take action, solve problems with determination and creativity, and do so with enthusiasm and vision.

Intentionally Communicate. Cut the fluffy BS. Leading requires a lot of effective and direct communication. To inspire, engage, and empower successful teams, others must first listen well before acting. Speak with people and ask them questions. Communicate with intention and consistency. Use every communication channel to reinforce your company’s direction.

Be Consistent. Recognise how others see you. Find a hard-soft balance that suits your company’s culture. It’s up to you to keep your team motivated, disciplined, and productive. You must be able to keep a firm grasp on accountability and on holding the team to the expectations of the business.

It’s tough–really tough– to be a good leader. What makes it tougher is having to accept that there is there is no way to opt out of being in the fishbowl. There’s always going to be people tapping the glass telling you they could do a better job, that they don’t agree with certain measures, refusing to take accountability. Those visiting aquariums for a relaxing day out, will always have those views. They’re always going to want a reaction.

Those who visit aquariums to study and to analyse dynamic (methaphoically), the factors driving environment and behaviours will always take a very different approach. Their efforts will be understanding of larger factors at play; the predators (competitors and company threats); the environment (the culture); levels of oxygen (leads and sales); the food (the effects of how work is distributed); the hierarchy of species (the levels of management and authority); cohabitation with other species (clients); the water temperature (impact of company wide change).

A lot of the difference between the two comes down to workplace maturity, a topic I’m currently studying and plan to write about (my Christmas break sounds super fun huh?).

In summary, the fishbowl is shit. It stops you from living your life and leading authentically, through constant passive and aggravated fear of how others view you and your actions. There is no way out or around this. You have to make the best out of the situation, be self aware of your own actions and behaviours but not to a self-detrimental extent. Set your own pillars of leadership, in line with the company goals and adhere to them. Be consistent. Be self aware. Act how you expect others to. Intentionally communicate. It will set the company further towards it’s aims and vision, and on the whole help the majority flourish. Some won’t like them if they are too fixated on eliciting reaction and self-indulging, and you’ve got to understand that you can’t please them. JUST STOP LETTING PEOPLE TAP ON THE GLASS.

I had fun with the metaphors on this one at least?


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