Perception is an incredibly powerful variable in every situation we face. How you perceive others, and how they perceive you, has an effect on your approach to a situation, the decision you make in that situation, and how others will view you in that interaction. Whether you’re leading a team of employees, a group of volunteers, or leading informally by influence, you must be aware of the effects of perception in order to lead well.
Do you know how you are perceived?
Many people have no clue how they are perceived, because they haven’t bothered to ask. This may be an uncomfortable step, but it’s vital to your self-awareness. You need to ask people around you how you’re perceived, and if you want a real answer, you’ll set it up in a way that allows them to be honest. Instead of “hey dude, do I come across as a nice guy to you?”, consider saying “would you mind sitting down with me soon to help me with my self-awareness? I’d love to get your honest feedback on how you and others perceive me. If there are any blind spots or areas I need to work on, I’d really appreciate your honesty in pointing them out.” If you set up a conversation like that with a few voices you trust, you’ll soon discover how you are perceived, and that is valuable information.
Do you know how you want to be perceived?
If you’re going to work on this area, you need to start by understanding how you want to be perceived. Having a wrong view in this area may push you toward developing a perception that ultimately works against you. For instance, maybe you’re a boss who thinks it’s a good idea to be feared in order to gain respect. You could definitely build in ways to be perceived as scary, but that would not be a positive direction for you to head. Consider attributes of Jesus that you want to portray instead. Be perceived (and strive to actually be) compassionate and caring, decisive and fair, humble and servant hearted.
Be aware of what shapes your and their perception
Don’t underestimate the factors that go into how people’s perspective of you are shaped. This is not just about the words you speak or the decisions you make. The tone of your email matters. The body language you utilize when you’re having a bad day matters. The way you first react to learning of a mistake someone has made matters. Each of your interactions (intentional and unintentional) matter to people, and they see more than you realize. The more you become aware and sensitive to this, the more you can shape that perspective into what you would like it to be, which hopefully will be in a direction that honors God and honors others. Also, while you’re increasing this self-awareness, you will begin to discover what shapes your perspective of others and hopefully learn to see beyond some of the superficial items that may taint your view of who someone really is.
The point in all this is not to craft an outer shell that fakes people into thinking you’re something that you are not. In fact, quite the opposite. Hopefully this opens our eyes to blind spots about ourselves that we didn’t previously see, and will be willing to bend into submission. The fact is, people develop an assumption about you based on the interactions they have with you. The less intentional you are with those interactions, the less you know how they will perceive you.