One of the questions that I am often asked by emerging leaders is how to change people’s perceptions of them. This is often the case if the person has been working in the organisation for some time and is then promoted. There are often perceptions and views of that person’s style, some of which may not be that flattering.
You are reading this because you want to be the best leader that you can be. That may mean taking a hard look at internal (and perhaps external) perceptions of you and looking at what you may want to change.
Tips to change perceptions
1. Is it true? Or is it your self talk?
I am not talking about your own self talk. I am talking about what your peers, colleagues, team members, bosses and customers would say about you and your leadership style.
2. Seek accurate feedback and data before acting
If you suspect that it’s not positive, firstly check it out. Act on facts rather than fiction. One person I coached was absolutely certain that his team would describe him in a particular (very negative) way. He was reacting and responding based on this assumption. So we did a quick survey to find out. And he couldn’t have been more wrong. Yes, of course there were things he could have done differently and things that he could have improved on, but by and large the perceptions of his team were very positive.
3. So it’s true
If you have accurate data that there are perceptions that need to be changed, take a good look at what it is that people are saying. Is it true? Is it fair? Could they be right? You may need help with this – either with a trusted internal colleague, someone in HR or a coach. Work out what you want to change. Be specific. Think about the behaviours and actions that fall into the category – not just a general over arching statement. Think about what it would look like if you were to demonstrate the behaviours and actions. What are the internal assumptions and core values that sit underneath all this? Again, you may need some help teasing some of this out.
4. Build trust
In changing perceptions, you need to build trust that has otherwise been eroded. The Speed of Trust is a fabulous book that shows how to build trust, step by step. This can help you in so many ways and with so many relationships, not only in changing perceptions.
5. Manage the perceptions
It may be that the perceptions need managing rather than changing. Think about how you can do this. Is this something that you need an sponsor within the organisation to help you with? Do you need to work on a plan by working with a coach or HR to show that the perceptions are inaccurate or unreasonable?
6. Just do it. Actions Speak Louder than Words
Seth Godin has this story in his book, Poke the Box:
“..Annie Downs works at the Mocha Club, a non profit based in Nashville that raises money for the developing world by working with touring musicians. Last year she called her boss and said something she had never said before, “I’ve got an idea, and I’m going to start working on it tomorrow. It won’t take a lot of time and it won’t cost a lot of money, and I think it is going to work.
With those two sentences, Annie changed her life. And she changed her organisation and the people it serves.
You’re probably wondering what her idea was. You may even be curious about how she pulled it off.
That is the wrong question.
The change was in her posture. The change was that for the first time in this job, Annie wasn’t waiting for instructions, working through a to-do list, or reacting to incoming tasks. She wasn’t handed initiative, she took it.
Annie crossed a bridge that day. She became someone who starts something, someone who initiates, someone who is prepared to fail along the way if it helps her make a difference..”
We can spend a lot of time thinking and pondering or blaming, or, we can just get on and do it. Make a change, do something different.
Want to change perceptions of you? Then make a plan, and do it. Start. Try new things. Yes, you’ll probably make more mistakes along the way. Yes, you’ll misjudge some situations. Yes, it may be three steps forward, one step back. But remember this:
If you keep doing what you always do, you’ll keep getting what you always get.