What’s Your Blind Spot? Part 2cahide
Written by: Cahide Akkuzu
Reading time: 6 minutes
In Part 1 of this article, I shared research results that highlight a few areas where leaders’ perceptions of themselves differ highly from how they are perceived by their employees. We also looked at how perception is formed. We all see the world as we are – with our own reality and our own filters. If we really want to learn how we are perceived, we must look at ourselves through the eyes of others and identify our blind spots. To read Part 1 of this article please click: https://www.contextprofessionals.com/en/what-is-your-blind-spot-part2-2/
The way you are perceived as a leader plays an important role in your influence on others and has an impact on your success. In this article, we will be looking into ways that will help you to create the perception that will lead you to success.
What sets successful leaders apart is their ability to manage how they are perceived when they are dealing with people issues or with organizational issues. People observe you and form judgments about how effectively you handled the situation, this becomes their perception of you, which becomes a reality as discussed in our previous article. And, by now we already know that people’s perceptions of leaders directly impact workplace relationships and achievements, therefore directly have an impact on the success of the leader. No matter what title you have, which school you graduated from, or your degrees; your own understanding of leadership must include an understanding of how you interact with the people around you that lead to how you are perceived. Every interaction of yours with your environment counts towards how you are perceived. Regardless of your own views about your personal abilities, your talents, and your own profile, your success is measured if the people you interact with are open to you, and willing to stand behind you or with you. You are successful and effective as a leader if you are perceived to be trusted in every sense.
Whether you like it or not, your attitudes and behaviors reflect your true thoughts to the outside. Through your daily contact with everyone, your profile is built – one interaction at a time. You need to be a vigilant self-evaluator of how you are perceived so that you can adapt and adjust as needed. The bottom line is that the people you lead will first look at the consistency between your words and your actions. They will evaluate you, whether you walk the talk and not just talk the talk.
A leader who understands perception management well assumes that no matter how clear you think you are as a leader, people don’t always perceive you the way you intend to be perceived. If there is a big difference between what you want to say and what others understand, you should carefully consider the way you communicate. According to research, employees ask themselves the following two questions when assessing their leaders:
- Do you have good intentions toward me (friend or foe)?
- Do you have what it takes to act on these intentions?
The first thing people do when they listen to you is to understand whether they can trust you and whether it’s safe to follow you! This decision is almost always made subconsciously. This shows that the most important reality you must build as a leader is to be trusted! You must have other leadership qualities too but remember that human nature seeks trust! By nature, we sometimes support and follow trustworthy leaders without even questioning them.
Now that we have learned how people’s perceptions are formed and with which filters they assess you, let’s answer the most crucial question: How will you build the perception that will lead you to success? How will you build trust in you as a leader? Your path to success as a leader is to take the time to understand clearly how you are perceived by others now! Find your blind spots! Once you clearly understand the gap, move on to create the perception that will lead you to success. Here are a few impactful ways that will help you on this path:
Let your leadership actions match your words every single time. You need to continually communicate the reasons behind your decisions, especially the difficult ones. You must follow through on your actions because without follow through, this can lead to a negative perception of you as untrustworthy. Walk your talk. People need to see you make good on your promises and carry out your stated intentions. You will come to find that your actions are more effective than your words to create the perception you desire. Overconfidence is a trap for leaders, who must learn to project a realistic sense of themselves. Successful leaders show modesty, while their words and actions reflect self-confidence. You have to ensure that your words are consistent with your deeds; otherwise, followers will never trust you. Everyone acknowledges and understands the need for consistency when establishing authenticity, but a great leader will embody it every moment of the day, and their actions become symbols of their passion after a while. Steve Jobs is remembered as a leader who symbolizes innovation and design, and Nelson Mandela is remembered as a symbol of the fight against racial discrimination.
Build an authentic connection with people
If you want your followers to trust you, then you have to trust them first! We are naturally inclined to reciprocate favors and extend trust to someone who has trusted us first. Projecting warmth and competence is another important component of gaining others’ trust. Show your friendliness, loyalty, and empathy. According to Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy, perceptions of warmth and competence account for 90 percent of the variability in whether others perceive you positively or negatively.
Be curious about people. Leaders who make eye contact, smile, nod, call people by name and really listen are very successful in communication. Unfortunately, most leaders can be very hasty under heavy workloads and neglect to follow this simple rule they know. In fact, as Nelson Mandela said:
” If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.”
Appeal to people’s hearts with your sincerity!
Share stories about yourself to show your sincerity. When you sincerely talk about your past experiences – especially your mistakes – you instill more confidence in your audience. This helps build an authentic connection with people and results in high-quality relationships. Don’t forget that your followers look for trust and safety. You must address your people’s interests and benefits.
Building an authentic connection should not be perceived as manipulation. An authentic connection must reflect the different aspects of the leader’s own self. Effective leaders know very well which personality aspects to reveal, to whom, and when. They are like chameleons, they can adapt to the situations they face and the demands of people, but in this process, they do not lose their identity and focus. Trustworthy leaders focus on where they are going, but they do not forget where they came from. Highly attuned to their environments, they rely on an intuition born of formative, sometimes harsh experiences to understand the expectations and concerns of the people they seek to influence. They do not lose their distinctive characteristics as individuals, but they know how to adapt to strong corporate cultures and social environments.
You need to find a common ground with the people that you seek to trust you and follow you. This means you will have to present different faces to different audiences, and all of these faces must be true expressions of your personality. People instinctively recognize unauthentic behavior. If a leader is playing a role that isn’t a true expression of their authentic self, followers will sooner or later feel like they’ve been tricked. There is no turning back and it’s hard for a leader to recover.
If you want to manage your perception, you have to make conscious choices about which of the different aspects of yourself to show, to whom, and when. Playing multiple roles usually demands a lot of thought and work. “Before I go into a situation, I try to understand what it is people will be thinking. I prepare what I am going to say and who I am going to be in that context,” explains Jean Tomlin, former HR Director at Marks & Spencer and one of the most influential black businesswomen in the UK. “I want to be me, but I am channeling parts of me to context. What you get is a segment of me. It is not a fabrication or a facade—just the bits that are relevant for that situation.”
Be aware of the impact you have on others
Are your employees happy when you visit their work area or are they afraid of you? How does stress affect you? How do you show up when you are stressed? Know the effect that stress has on you and how this looks to others. Most importantly, be around and be visible at strategic moments, both the good and bad. Be around to explain and answer questions when bad things happen and also celebrate with your team during good times.
Mirror neurons in our brains enable us to empathize. According to research, as the power of individuals increases, the function of mirror neurons weakens, so our ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and feel empathy decreases. Therefore, be aware that power changes the way we see other people, especially when there’s a power differential. When communicating with the people you lead, be aware of how your position and power affect the messages you want to convey. People will use their own interpretation if you leave a gap. Be aware of the impact your communication has on others and do not leave a gap!
Get honest feedback
Keep people you trust close to you and through them find out how others perceive you. Make sure that you get honest feedback and then spend some time on self-reflection. If you get too much praise for how good you are, you may have difficulty hearing the truth. Your employees may read you so well they know what you want to hear and they may just give that back to you. Arrogance is your worst enemy! To stay away from this danger, ask others for honest feedback. Even if you get praise, insist to hear from them one thing that you could get better at, take that and reflect on it. If you do not know how you are perceived, you cannot change things. Building self-awareness requires courage and commitment. So be open to constructive criticism as this helps with understanding your own strengths and weaknesses.
Conform – but only just enough
When choosing which aspects of yourself to reveal to whom, you need to consciously decide how much you will conform to social and company norms. There is a very thin line here. If you conform too much to social and company norms, you will appear ineffective, if you do not comply at all, you will become isolated, and inevitably at some point, you will become a target. The challenge creating just enough distance from the norms so followers will perceive you as special and attractive. It is important that you find the right balance. This will enable people to identify themselves with you, you will be “one of them”, and you will be considered as a leader who questions existing norms and supports change. Choose your own playground. Consciously determine which social and company norms you want to conform to and why. Also, choose the norms that you openly decide to challenge and create a distance too.
Develop your personal brand
Developing your personal brand is a journey and is essential for the advancement of your career and development as a leader. Your personal brand is how you define yourself as a leader and how this shapes the way you serve others. Ginni Rometty managed IBM as the first female CEO for 8 years until April 2020. She expresses how she defines herself in these words:
“One of the most important things for any leader is to never let anyone else define who you are. And you define who you are. I never think of myself as being a woman CEO of this company. I think of myself as a steward of a great institution.”
Developing your brand doesn’t mean self-promotion – that you should be creating awareness for your brand by showcasing your achievements and success stories. Build your brand in a way that is unique to you, reflecting your experiences, successes, mistakes, and stories – who you really are and what you care about. Let it become a natural and instinctive part of who you are. Allow yourself to be a great role model or a voice that others can depend upon.
With your personal brand, you should always meet the expectations you create for yourself and those that you serve. See your own brand as a trademark: an asset you must protect while continuously developing and shaping it. It is an asset that you must manage with the intention of helping others benefit from having a relationship with you and by being associated with your work.
Magnify your strengths
In their book The Extraordinary Leader: Turning Good Managers into Great Leaders, Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman highlighted what distinguishes good leaders from outstanding leaders. According to hard data coming from their extensive scientific research, leaders need to develop their strengths and explicitly use their strengths in order to be perceived as an extraordinary leader:
‘’Our research has led us to conclude that great leaders are not defined by the absence of weakness, but rather by the presence of clear strengths. Great leaders, as seen through the eyes of [direct reports] and peers, possess multiple strengths, and our research shows a relatively straight-line progression. The more strengths people have, the more likely they are to be perceived as great leaders. It is far better to magnify strengths or create strengths out of those characteristics that are in positive territory but not fully developed. Leaders who are moderately effective and preoccupy themselves with incremental improvement of less positive issues will never move from good to great. Development is far more successful when the leader focuses primarily on strengths rather than being only concerned with repairing weaknesses.’’
To be perceived as a great leader you must excel at something. The best way to do this is to strengthen and magnify your strength so that they stand out and shine! The important thing to remember is: to excel in one or more of your leadership competencies! Don’t dwell on fixing your weaknesses. When choosing the competencies that you aim to excel at, choose by looking at your strengths. At the same time, make sure that these competencies will increase the trust that the people you lead will have in you. While creating your personal brand, make your strengths visible in all of your interactions and in everything you do. These competencies in which you excel will be key to how you are perceived as a leader! The effort you make on fixing your weaknesses will not pay off!
To communicate well, you first need to listen very well. You need to make a conscious effort to understand others well. Notice your assumptions and biases about others and realize that your first impression of others may be wrong. Our biases and assumptions can sometimes unwillingly trigger some of our behavior. Be fair to others, this will increase their trust in you. All the suggestions I wrote above for connecting with others in an authentic way are important for good communication and for increasing people’s trust in you.
How are you currently perceived? What are your blind spots? Once you have a clear understanding of this, create a communication plan for yourself. Which strengths and leadership competencies can you show to whom so that you can build the perception you desire? Focus on creating a communication plan toward these objectives. Turn it into a story about you that sticks with people. Create opportunities to communicate this consistently.
It takes time and effort to build how you want to be perceived as a leader. Consider the above suggestions, but most importantly, use your own judgment of what will be an authentic way that suits you most. The most important thing to pay attention to on this journey is to always look at yourself through the eyes of others.
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you make them feel”
Context Professionals Corporate Coaching and Consulting