Perceptions:  Essential for being an Effective Leader

Perceptions play an important role in leadership

It’s amazing, when you think about how powerful our perceptions are in influencing our reactions and behaviors. Our perceptions clearly influence how we see the world and the judgments we make about what we see. They are influenced by our feelings, values, and experiences.  While perceptions should be flexible; in reality, they are not.  We most often treat our perceptions as rigid truths that are unchangeable.

So what’s the problem?  Well, if our perceptions are inflexible, we will most likely limit our ability to be open to diverse viewpoints, decisions, and interactions with others.  This is most definitely a roadblock to being a highly effective leader!

So what do we need to know?  It’s important to know three key factors that influence our perceptions: knowledge, experience, and expectations

 Knowledge in this context isn’t necessarily education, but rather something we’ve come to know and have accepted as a truth. 

It becomes our true knowledge because….someone we hold in esteem told us, I read it, or a generalized: “they say…” The list goes on.  In reality, knowledge changes and grows, just think about the change in technology over the years!  But when it comes to our perceptions, we treat that knowledge as though it can’t be changed.  Think about something as simple as the “right” way to put in a roll of toilet paper….roll out from the front vs. roll out from the back?!!!

Do you hear yourself say too often…”well that’s the way I’ve always done it?”

Experiences boldly shape our perceptions.  The rational model for formulating a perception from experience would be to draw on a number of experiences, but in reality, we most often have one experience and come to one conclusion.  A good example of that might be a restaurant we try and have a bad meal; one experience/on conclusion.  Take it to another level and think about how we might have one experience with a certain type of person and we may generalize and conclude that we will have that same experience with all persons of a certain type.

Expectations are really tricky.  If you expect something, you’re likely to find it because your brain is trying to validate your experience.  In many cases, we create our negativity by treating expectations like sacred truths.  For example, it’s the end of the month and it’s going to be horrible as I expect to wait a long time to get my car registered.  That perception may have some merit, but is it always the case? Conversely, when we create unrealistic expectations we become disappointed.  Think about your expectations of how you were going to be treated on a special occasion, only to have it not turn out as you had envisioned.  Disappointment is just unfulfilled expectations that can jade our perceptions of people and/or events.

So, now what?  Since perceptions play a powerful part of how we view the world and interact with others, we need to challenge those three influencers of our perceptions.  Is this “knowledge” really a sacred truth?  Why?  Have I developed a rigid perception of people or events based on a limited number of experiences?  Can I challenge myself to be open to another try?  Are my expectations realistic?  Are they more often negative and do I regularly seek to have them validated?   Consider the possibility of looking at things from different angles, and be flexible in exploring alternative (and sometimes opposing) views.  Think about the positives of challenging your perceptions and their impact on your leadership effectiveness!  My guess is, you’ll be presently surprised!

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