What’s Your Blind Spot? Part 1cahide
Written by: Cahide Akkuzu
Reading time: 5 minutes
We must accept that there is always a difference between how we see ourselves and how others see us. Sometimes, there can be a huge gap between our self-perception and how others perceive us. This is our blind spot. And, how we are perceived by others is a reality that we must accept!
The way you are perceived as a leader plays an important role in your influence on others and has an impact on your success. If the trust in you as a successful leader is high, you will have more impact on others and you will need less effort to get your team or other people into action. If you are constantly facing resistance, things don’t move forward as fast as they should, even though you are investing a lot of effort in your team you cannot get the results that you are expecting, it may be time to take a closer look at how you are perceived!
Many leaders understand their own perceptions but are often either ignorant or intolerant to how others perceive them. Success as a leader has very little to do with your self-perception, but rather it has everything to do with how others perceive you. There are obviously other traits that play very important roles like leadership skills, character or integrity. The reality of a leader’s success, however, may depend more on how you are viewed by others than it does on what you do as a leader. Let’ s see how!
A survey done by VitalSmarts, which is a leadership training company that has been renamed to Crucial Learning last year, uncovered a huge gap between how management and employees view the company’s leadership style and culture. Let’s look at a few areas where leaders’ perception of themselves differ significantly from how they are perceived by employees.
Conformity versus innovation – Many leaders think they encourage employees to innovate and approach them with new ideas. Surprisingly, the VitalSmarts survey found that majority of employees feel as if they should think inside the box and not outside the box! Employees were 53 percent more likely than leaders to say the office-culture norm is to conform, follow the rules and make a good impression. No matter how much leaders think they ask employees for new ideas, employees often believe their leaders are not listening and are not interested in new ideas. Why do employees feel this way? How comes that they are perceiving their leaders in such a way?
Transparency versus closed communication – Leaders tend to think they are open and honest with employees, but the VitalSmarts survey shows that employees don’t feel the same way. Leaders were 67 percent more likely than employees to say the norm in the office is to speak up immediately whenever there is a question or concern that could affect performance. While leaders expect employees to be open and transparent and to come to them with questions or concerns, the leaders themselves don’t do the same! The main disconnect happens in the feedback phase. 37 percent of managers are uncomfortable with giving direct feedback and criticism when they anticipate employees to respond poorly.
Goal-oriented versus task-oriented – Many leaders believe they are helping employees set goals and establish plans to reach them, but employees from VitalSmarts’ survey were 18 percent less likely to agree that this is true. Setting goals isn’t enough. These objectives sometimes get lost in the flood of day-to-day responsibilities.
Competition versus teamwork – Collaboration and teamwork have become large areas of focus for leaders, but employees aren’t seeing the change. Surprisingly, respondents of the VitalSmarts survey said they felt competition with peers was valued by leaders and their company culture.
These research results clearly illustrate the gap between how leaders perceive themselves and how they are perceived by their employees. This gap in perception can lead to many unwanted consequences. One of the important consequences is the negative impact it creates on employee engagement, which I discussed in one of my previous articles. You can find my article about employee engagement from the following link: https://www.contextprofessionals.com/en/do-you-care-about-how-engaged-your-team-is-part1/
Without a doubt, the most important thing to do is to face the facts. Be aware of and accept other people’s perceptions and understand how these perceptions are formed.
Let’s start by looking at the definitional differences between “perception” and “reality”. Perception is a belief, theory, hypothesis, feeling, appearance, opinion, observation, insight, awareness or sensitivity. It may or may not constitute reality, and initial perceptions often change with the passing of time, the changing of circumstances, or with receiving additional information. On the other side, reality is certain, authentic, actual, true, and factual. True reality is undeniable, factually indisputable, and not subject to debate.
According to this definition, others’ perception about us is a reality that we must accept. We may not agree with that perception or different people may have different perceptions of us. We must accept their perception of us as a reality, because they will behave in a certain way due to how they perceive us! They may say “I don’t think my boss likes to be challenged therefore I am holding back from sharing my true opinions”. We must accept this feeling and the associated behavior of our team member as our reality. It is important that we accept others perception of us as our reality because we now know that these perceptions have important effects on our results. If we do not see our blind spot, we cannot do anything about it, and it will continue to impact us negatively.
Since perception is so important, let’s take a closer look at how perception is formed. People can be at the same place, observe the same event and still form different opinions about what happened. And since everyone perceives the world differently, everyone thinks that their version of interpretation is correct. Just like the visual we used at the beginning of this article. Some may only see black and white spots, some may see a tree, some may see flowers, and some may see two people facing each other. How we perceive something we see changes according to the filters we have created over time. As a leader, your behavior, words, facial expression, reactions, approach, attitudes; in summary all your verbal or non-verbal messages are interpreted by the people at the receiving end through their filters, and as a result, certain judgments about you emerge. For more detailed information on this topic, you can read my post on Unconscious Bias from the following link:
In summary, people take inputs (information), process them through a variety of filters (experience, emotions, expectations, moral and philosophical positions, etc.), those filters in turn create an output (a perception), which leads to an action (a decision, behavior or attitude). Again, all of us use a very similar process, we just have access to different types of inputs, use different filters, arrive at different perceptions, and therefore make different decisions. It’s all about learning to access better quality information and also to develop a more refined filtering system that will allow us to have more accurate perceptions and create a better understanding.
The key for a leader is to take the time to understand the mechanics of this process as it applies to those that you lead and communicate with on a frequent basis. If you understand where someone is getting their inputs, and which filters they use in creating their outputs, you will be able to better understand and impact their perceptions. This will allow you to have greater influence over their decision-making process. This is very simple, but very powerful, and should be understood by anyone in a leadership position.
As Socrates said ‘’Know Yourself!’’ This is the right starting point. Socrates said it briefly and clearly, but it is not easy at all! Firstly, let’s start from how you see yourself. How do you perceive yourself? What is your own reality? How does this reality impact your behavior and attitudes? How do you think you are perceived as a leader? What impact do you have on others? These questions are not easy to answer. Take time to reflect and refrain from giving cliché answers.
Now, let us look at it from the other side! How do others perceive you? Become aware of this reality. Consider your team or other people you frequently interact with and answer the following questions:
- Do they see you more as an agent of empowerment or an agent of control?
- Do they see you more as a champion for their ideas or a killer of their dreams?
- Do they see you more as a proponent of change or a protector of tradition?
- Do they see you as a friend of progress or the enemy of success?
- Do they believe you will protect them when their back is turned?
- Do they think you have their best interest, even ahead of your own?
- Do they genuinely believe your heart is fully committed to the team?
Keep the answers to these questions in your mind. Now, answer the following questions:
- 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 this particular way? From where do you draw that insight? What data do you have that supports this view?
- Do you think their perception is an accurate reflection of you as a leader? Why or why not?
- How would you like others to perceive you?
I know it is not easy to answer these questions, because 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. This is not easy, but it is possible. You may explicitly ask for feedback. If the person giving you feedback feels that you are not going to hold that feedback against them, that you are truly seeking the feedback to have a better understanding of yourself and that you will take action on it, then they will make their best to share their perceptions of you. Companies offer 360 assessments to their leaders for this very same purpose. When respondents feel that anonymity is secured and that the person who receives the feedback will take the feedback by heart and will take action on the feedback, they will openly share how they perceive you. With any kind of feedback, whether you agree or disagree with the feedback is not the point. Anything that you disagree with is your blind spot! The point is, understanding the perceptions of others gives you a source of intelligence, a learning opportunity, and the ability to keep lines of communication open.
Your path to succeed as a leader is to take the time to understand clearly how you are perceived by others! Find your blind spots! Once you clearly understand this, you can then move on to find ways to create the perception that will lead you to success. We will be looking at that in Part 2.
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