Perception is often reality for a leader. Over the years, I have learned how a team sees you as a leader is often more important than who you really are as a leader.

Obviously, character is most important. Integrity matters even more than perception. You’ll often be misunderstood and you can’t please everyone. In fact, somedays, as a leader – it seems – you can’t please anyone.

So, as a leader, I’d rather know my character is genuine. I want to be loved most by those who know me best. 

That matters most. 

The reality of the success of a leader, however, may depend more on how you are viewed by the people you lead than it does on what you do as a leader.

Perception is often reality for a leader. 

I’ve learned, often the hard way, that the two are not always the same. You can have the greatest integrity, know all the right leadership techniques, and have a track record of success, but the way people you are trying to lead perceive you will determine the quality of your leadership – almost more than anything else. 

  • Do  people perceive you as an agent of empowerment or an agent of control?
  • Are you perceived as more a champion for their ideas or a killer of their dreams?
  • Do they perceive you more as a proponent of change or a protector of tradition?
  • Are you perceived as a friend of progress or the enemy of success?
  • Do they believe you will protect them when their back is turned?
  • Are you perceived as having their best interest ahead of your  own?
  • Do they genuinely perceive that your heart is fully committed to the team – or are you seeking your next best opportunity?
  • Are you perceived as likely to get angry when mistakes are made – or be grace-giving?
  • Do people perceive you as approachable more than you are harsh? 

These are all perceptions. And perceptions are often reality for a leader. 

Much of your success as a leader will depend on the perception you create among the people you attempt to lead. People will follow closer when their perception of you is that you are for them more than against them.

Perception is ultimately created by how you lead, but sometimes – just as vision does – perception leaks. So, people form perceptions regardless of whether or not you do anything. Perceptions may or may not be reality, but as a leader, I must be keenly aware of this principle. 

Candidly. I’ve seen this go in seasons in my leadership. I’ve often had to reinforce the perception in people’s minds about my leadership. Often this is after a busy or stressful time, when their is tension on the team, or during times of change. The team needs to perceive I’m still the leader they want to follow.

Sometimes, I need to ask pointed questions – (I’ve even done anonymous surveys) – to gauge people’s current perceptions of my leadership. 

But I must be aware that my perception is often reality as a leader. 

If you’re still trying to get your mind around my thoughts, here is an example: 

Once we had make some rather significant changes to our organizational structure. It meant fewer people reported directly to me. When we announced the changes I reiterated my open door policy and availability to our staff would continue. People who work with me long have learned this is how I lead.

But human nature kicks in for all of us. And change evokes an emotional response, which helps shape people’s perceptions. I knew I needed to take intentional actions in the weeks following to make sure the perception of my leadership is as strong as my actual leadership.

Guard how people perceive you as a leader. 

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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