…it’s the interpretation of the facts we most often disagree!
In this classic conflict between content (facts) and context (interpretation) lies a key element of effective leadership; managing perceptions! We’ve heard many of the mantras around perception including the most common, “Perception is Reality”. But what is perception and how does it influence our ability to be effective leaders? Perception is the process we use to organize and interpret our sensory inputs in order to understand, and give meaning to, what goes on around us. More specifically, perception can be addressed by looking deeper into the factors that shape our perceptions and reside in the Perceiver, the Situation and the Sensory Target. Let’s look at each of these to see what we can learn to be more effective leaders!
- The Perceiver ~ Even before we encounter our next sensory input, our previous experiences and attitudes will impact how we interpret, or simply interact (see, hear, taste, smell and feel) the next event. An example from my work as a leadership and business coach is coaching leaders in a multi-generational workforce. The leader’s attitudes towards the other generations will undoubtedly bias his or her interpretation of their next interaction. This bias comes naturally as a by-product of the leader’s previous experiences in similar situations. As Anais Nin once said, “We don’t see things as they are. We see them as we are.”!
- The Situation ~ Where and how the sensory input occurs has influence over the perception as well. Whether we are in a social setting or in a workplace setting when the event occurs will impact how we perceive the event itself. In my own coaching experience, an example we see often occurs when people interpret the same situation differently depending on whether the interaction occurs face-to-face versus being online or on the phone. The contextual setting of the situation impacts and influences how we perceive it!
- The Target ~ Sensory target characteristics have influence over our perception of the event. We perceive differently whether the target falls into a specific category or demographic. Because we do not view targets in isolation, we rely on categories and groupings to help us understand the situation. An example, again from my own experience, is the aforementioned multi-generational workforce. We perceive someone in their twenties or early thirties as potentially inexperienced (category) due to their age. Yet that same person likely has much to offer in the way of new ideas to help the leader and the organization stay relevant!
Perception is an integral part of a leader’s effectiveness and sustained success based on the many interpretations people can create for a single set of facts. One only has to tune into the current political scene to know how true that really is! What leader’s must remember is that even when the facts suggest a situation has changed, the perception that the change has not yet occurred will lag the facts by a couple of cycles. How many cycles depends on the leader’s ability to manage the perceiver (themselves and others), the situation and the target which are all in constant flux. Developing effective perception management goes a long way to making leadership a way of life!
How are your followers interpreting your facts?