Managing perceptions as a leader
People can be at the same place, at the same time and still come away with different opinions about what actually happened and, because everyone perceives the world in different ways, each person thinks that their version of events is correct.
As a leader, it’s important to be aware of your own perceptual biases and shortcuts. However, as difficult as these may be to overcome, you can always mitigate their impacts by being aware of how bias informs your perceptions and avoid jumping to conclusions.
What does this mean for you as a leader?
In terms of effective leadership, recognising the impact of bias is extremely important as perceptual errors can lead to poor decision-making. This means you can never truly understand others if you don’t start by developing your own self-awareness.
To better understand yourself and others, it’s important to be aware that there are a number of sources of perceptual error, including:
- not collecting enough information
- using irrelevant information
- seeing only what we want and expect to see
- allowing early information to affect perception of later information
- allowing one’s own characteristics to affect the way we perceive others
- accepting stereotypes uncritically.
Addressing your perceptual bias
If you’re serious about developing your leadership practice, in addition to increasing your awareness of potential perceptual bias, you also need to know how you can address these errors. For example, according to Huczynski & Buchanan (1991), you may need to:
- avoiding making quick judgements about people and events
- collect and consciously use more information about people and events before arriving at decisions
- develop self-awareness by not only understanding your own personal bias, but also the biases of others.
This last point is complex but incredibly important to understanding leadership and your role as leader. Since people perceive things differently, the people you work with—despite you being the same person—will perceive you in different ways. Understanding how they see you and why, is key to developing your leadership effectiveness.
Addressing the perceptual bias of others
There is a school of thought that says you should adapt and be flexible to the needs of your followers, but—if they all have different perceptions and vast individual differences of their own—how can you achieve this without compromising yourself? This is a key question that requires addressing in further courses on this subject.
Based on what you’ve covered so far, consider the following questions and share your thinking in the comments
- How do people see you as a leader in your workplace?
- Did you respond by thinking about how you hope people will see you, or do you know that people see you in a particular way? From where do you draw that insight?
- Do you think their perception is an accurate reflection of you as a leader? Why/why not?
- What might you do to ensure their perception matches reality or what might you need to change so that how you hope you are viewed is indeed how others see you?
Huczynski, A & Buchanan D 1991, Organisational behaviour, 2nd edn, Prentice Hall, NJ.
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