How to Handle the Way People Perceive You as a Leader

October 06, 2012

" In our last blog we wrote that a leader's two greatest enemies are people's perception and expectations of us as leaders. I want to take a few moments and look at the first one: perception. Unfortunately, most leaders are viewed not for who they are, but through an individual's lens or grid.  Perception is judgement from a distance. Perception is a problem because it creates an external barrier as well as a potential roadblock for maximizing productivity.   There is a four-fold problem when it comes to handling the perceptions people have of you. 1. People naturally mistrust those they do not know personally. 2. That mistrust is amplified when the person they don't know personally is a leader. 3. Most people live by their perceptions rather than the reality. For example, this may be part of the reason that a majority of people have no problem with Jesus and have deep issues with the church. 4. History is against us.  There have been so many leadership failures in every area of life-from politics to non-profits-that building a perception of integrity and trust can sometimes be difficult, if not impossible. Because of the way people will perceive you, they will also have expectations of you that are related to the way they see you. We will deal with expectations in the next blog but for now I want to give you some ways of dealing with perception. Here are a few suggestions for managing the way others perceive you. 1. Make sure you communicate on a regular basis the values that help shape your decisions. If you do not regularly communicate your values, others will assume them by your worst decision or mistakes.  We all make mistakes from time to time, but don't let them shape a person's view of you. 2. Make sure that you maintain a high level of integrity and character. Buck the trend - keep your word and conduct yourself with the highest ethical standard.  This is just a great way to live regardless of whether you're concerned about how people perceive you or not, but it certainly doesn't hurt. 3. When its time to play hardball err on the side of grace. A mentor in my early years of ministry gave me this bit of advice and its wisdom has proven itself time and again.  An act of grace when condemnation is expected speaks volumes to the right people.  True, it may be perceived as naive or even dumb to some, but they are likely to be people you aren't going to sway anyway. 4. Be open with those closest to you You cannot know or counter-act every false notion some people have of you, but others who know you can help.  Sometimes, your best defense comes from someone other than yourself, especially when that person can say, ""You don't know what you're talking about?  I happen to know him personally and I can tell you that's not the person I know."" 5. Develop your listening skills This is a real difficult one for me, but often, just listening to what people are saying about the environment around you can give you clues to how they see you.  Ever have someone say something like this to you? ""Why is it every time you help in that area good things happen?""  They may perceive you as a type of catalyst for positive change, or as a person with specific gifts that are a complement  to an area. Even though we are never going to fully counter act the false perceptions that some will have of us, these will help to minimize it.  For those of us in mid to large churches, our presence in the pulpit, or before a youth group is the closest the average person gets to form an impression of us. Managing the ways that people perceive you is a daily challenge. I would love to hear your comments and some other ways that may be helpful in managing perceptions."


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