Leadership – the only reality we have is perception

Written by: Jordan Tinney

Published On: December 14th 2011

Perception is reality. No matter how you view yourself, your profile as a leader will be constructed for you by those with which you work and interact. Socrates guiding rule was “know thyself.” Knowing oneself is imperative; however, it may be that your ability to understand how others perceive you that will be a more powerful tool to help you be a better leader.

Donna Jackson (2011) in a recent article in the Journal of Leadership Education wrote about how capturing your essence as a leader extends beyond “title, length of time with your school system, and paycheck stubs.” She extended Socrates’ notion to include that your own understanding of leadership must include a grasp of how you interact with the environment around you. No matter what we view of our personal abilities or profile “authenticity is measured when others working with you are open and willing to stand behind or with you.”

Our notion of “self” in an organization is largely socially constructed. Through our daily contact with everyone, our profile is built – one interaction at a time. In a recent series of interviews, there was a question of leadership versus management. When we think of this paradigm, I often consider a quote “leadership is an inside job.” Whether the task is routine technical management or complex adaptive leadership, the way in which we interact with others and the task is the perception (and reality) of who we are as leaders. Not only should we be aware of this social construction, but you need to be a vigilant self-evaluator of this perception so that you can adapt and adjust as needed. In essence, do you walk the walk and not just talk the talk?

Developing such self-awareness is central to leadership. One way to self-evaluate is to consider asking some tough questions of yourself. Questions that Jackson (2009) posed are:

  • How aware of you of yourself?
  • Are you a commander or a coach?
  • Do you have a vision?
  • Can you articulate your vision to others?
  • Can those whom you lead see consistency between your vision and your actions?

“As a leader seeking to model morality and character, it is essential that your leadership style makes sense of human complexities. Informed leaders inspire others while educating themselves as part of the continuum of learning… The bottom line is that you must understand yourself before you begin to make sense of others’ complexities. The belief that perception is reality is relevant for understanding your strengths and what is expected of you and by you. Literature supports high expectations and action-driven skills vital to your authentic and sustained leadership. Such a simple word – leadership – is laden with expectations, morality, and behaviors. While you may hold the position via title or by self-perception, you should first examine all areas of your life before thoroughly owning the position. Your strengths lie within yourself. Know them.”

After all, leadership is an inside job.

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