One of the most important things for leaders to embrace is their humanness — their human messiness. The messiness of failure is inescapable and necessary for those who lead courageously. It is in how you acknowledge and handle your failures that make all of the difference in people experiencing you as confidently vulnerable, authentic and trustworthy. The key is your willingness to be introspective and to know yourself.
Great leaders learn to manage perceptions through knowing themselves and pausing for introspection. No matter how clear you think you are as a leader, people don’t always perceive you the way you intend.
When listening to leaders, there are filters that an audience uses — Trust and Power being two of them. In my previous post I discussed the Trust filer. Let’s now consider the Power filter.
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The Power Filter
Power changes the way we see other people, especially when there’s a power differential.
When leaders speak, they must be mindful of how their power influences their message. Failing to see or acknowledge this power differential leaves room for perceivers to fill in the blanks. Great communicators are always cognizant of this filter, acknowledging it in some fashion and respectfully enlisting or inviting their follower’s engagement.
If you want to be understood and have influence as a leader, focus on improving how you are in relationship to and how you understand others. Be aware of your subconscious assumptions, biases and filters so you can manage them more effectively.
Social psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson in No One Understands You and What to Do About It (Harvard Business Review Press, 2015) suggests the following strategies:
Take your time
Remember that your first impression may be dead wrong. There are always other possible interpretations of someone’s behavior.
Commit to being fair
We sometimes forget to be fair when we judge someone. Step into their shoes before judging them. The more you consciously implement fairness, the more accurate your perceptions will be.
Beware of the confirmation bias
Once you form an impression, you will seek evidence to confirm it. You will ignore other behaviors, even (and perhaps especially) if they contradict your impressions. Have the courage to step back and take a good look in the mirror, confront your biases and accept an expanded reality.
If there’s a huge gap between your intended message and how others hear it, you need to closely examine your mindset, communication style and substance. Consider working with a trusted mentor or professional coach to analyze how you come across to others.