This leadership commentary is by Dr. Karen Otazo, author of The Truth About Managing Your Career and The Truth About Being a Leader.

BP ( BP) CEO Tony Hayward Needs to Know He is Always On.

When you're in the media spotlight, everything you say or do looms large for the public. Offhand or stray comments can hurt any leader. Leaders on the world stage can look to seasoned actors for role models.

Actors about to go onstage have their dressing rooms. Stars preparing to appear on a talk show wait in a place called the "green room," composing themselves for their performances. It's amazing to watch the transformation when they walk onto the set. They turn "on" like a light as they become the characters of their parts, or assume their public personae. Their high energy generates a mood that captures the audience.

Highly effective leaders do the very same thing when appearing in front of an audience, using their words, facial expressions and even bodies to give off the message that they are in control, inspired, and in a positive frame of mind.

However, for a public leader like BP's Hayward, the audience is an all-day one including media, colleagues and followers. But the most important moments are the recorded ones with the media. In the age of the Internet they are never forgotten.

Highly visible, you set the tone for your team or organization. Others take their lead from you, looking for reassurance that everything is on course and for encouragement to drive things forward. Tempting as it may be, you can't slip out of your leader role until you are alone in your office, home or hotel room.

When Hayward said he wanted his life back he may have just been venting his frustration. What he didn't get was what his audience would feel and hear. What about the 11 dead? What about the tens of thousands without jobs?

What are the traits or characteristics a leader needs to display? By the time you reach the highest levels others will expect maturity in approach and thoughtfulness in outlook from you, as well as a positive belief in your organization or team and its capabilities. This means always projecting a can-do attitude, and doing your best not to show anger or disappointment or have snide remarks no matter how challenging the situation.

Being "on" certainly doesn't mean that you are always feeling positive inside. But you manage your mood. Once you're in your office, offstage, behind closed doors, you can heave a sigh, or punch a cushion or two. But then you need to be able to put the negativity aside, and think about the way forward. The longer you spend thinking about "what went wrong" or "who did what wrong" the less you will look at solutions.

Being "on" is not about denying that there are problems. Nor is it about deceiving people. The leadership role needs to be delivered with clarity and honesty. Once a business problem rears its head, present the facts as soon as possible to those who need to know -- those who may feel the consequences -- but just the facts, free of emotion or fear. Before you present them, make sure you've taken the time to compose yourself, and to think about some possible steps forward. That way, the overall agenda is presented as one of challenge, not one of problem or disaster, steering people towards thinking and working their way back to firmer ground.

Slipping out of role will not only have an impact on everyone's faith in your current strategy or the business as a whole, but also affect their attitude towards you. Public moments of anger or sarcasm towards staff, or doubt, negativity or panic about business initiatives, can weaken people's confidence in your ability to keep the organizational ship on course. You will have forever changed in the eyes of your audience.

For more information about Dr. Karen Otazo, visit her Web site at
Otazo is a guest contributor to TheStreet. The opinions expressed are her own and do not necessarily represent those of TheStreet or its management.