If You’re Authentic Then Those That Know You, Know YOU. Right?

Who can argue with the power and wholesomeness of authentic leadership? The leadership gurus tell us anybody can be an authentic leader if they have the integrity to standup for their values and use them consistently when making decisions. The more authentic you act, the more authentic you become, and the more you become respected for being an authentic leader. Simple formula, right? Not so fast. You’re missing one important step.

Being authentic starts with what a leader believes in. I am authentic, therefore I am. Self-knowledge is fundamental to become grounded in one’s genuine qualities, but that’s just one person’s opinion. Authenticity is in the eye of the beholder. Perception is reality. For many leaders, especially emerging leaders, there is a “perception gap” between their self-described qualities and how he/she is perceived by others. The more others agree on a leader’s authentic qualities the more authentic she/he becomes. Acknowledgement breeds confidence. The opposite can also be true.

A perception gap where a leader’s authentic qualities are not well understood by others presents a real opportunity for development and growth. Some leaders may find he/she has a different kind of perceptual gap to manage, a set of misperceptions, often negative, that adds friction to their growth as a leader. In either case managing perceptions is an important competency to support a leader’s growth and development. Managing the perception gap is an added element to leveraging the power of being respected as an authentic leader.

The Proactive Power of Perception Management

Managing perceptions can be an “X Factor” that distinguishes leaders on the fast track from similarly talented leaders. Some leaders have an instinct for and sensibility about the perceptual implications of their words and actions. While for many other leaders, especially younger, emerging leaders, managing perceptions is an underdeveloped leadership competency.

As a leader you have more power over how you are perceived than one might think and by consciously practicing the basic principles of perception management your most authentic, valuable qualities are more likely to shine through. Being acknowledged for your authentic qualities delivers on what’s important to most of us – we get to be more of who we are.

To get you off and running here are a few of the basics about managing perceptions.

  • For some strange, quirky reason we live under the false belief that other people should be able to understand us. We think a lot about ourselves: our ups and downs, our aspirations, our improvements and our intentions. Research confirms common sense; there is most often a big gap between our self-understanding and how others understand us. Other people don’t get us, like we think they do. According to a research study conducted at the University of Manitoba, while 60% of people believe they were clear in communicating their intentions, only 26% of their intended audience believed they could identity those intentions! To add credence, another study confirms that your friends and families are only 20% – 50% likely to perceive you in the same way you perceive yourself. Now imagine how accurate people’s perceptions are that are one, two or three times removed in your network of relationships.So now what? Assume most people don’t understand your authentic qualities which means you have to be proactive, demonstrative and consistent to display your key authentic qualities as often as possible.
  • Perceivers are lazy. Everyone has the same ability to accurately perceive others, but not the same motivation to understand another person. Most people are lazy (technically known as “cognitive misers”) in applying themselves to accurately perceive or understand others. To make matters worse, people are not very likely to change their mind about how they perceive you. There are certain conditions and tactics to get people to change their mind, but they’re difficult and take a lot of work. (More on that in a later piece.)So now what? Yes, your mother was right first impressions are VERY important, so are the second, the third, the ….. Have an “impression plan” and be consistent when you interact with people as you get to know them.
  • Some perceivers wear blinders. Certain individuals view others through their “Power Lens” and I don’t mean more accurately. Individuals who believe they are “powerful” e.g., senior executives, or anybody who feels they have control over certain groups or other resources, spend very little energy to accurately perceive others. These “powerful” individuals are much more likely to use stereotypes to develop their perceptions of others. Worse yet they place more emphasis on the negative aspects of the stereotype.So now what? The best way to breakaway from the stereotypical perceptions you need to identify and act on situations or activities that can help a “powerful” person reach their goals. When you get their attention in this way they are much more likely to make an effort to identify your qualities.

Managing perceptions isn’t rocket science and every leader can become much better at perception management. Step One: becoming more grounded in the principles of perception management is a good starting point. Step Two: define what perceptions you want to create that reflect your authentic qualities. Step Three: gain an accurate assessment of how you are perceived today. Finally, to manage perceptions it takes a consciously competent effort or simply stated – practice, practice, practice!