I heard about a book recently (I will openly admit that I haven’t had the chance to read it yet!) but the premise itself was fascinating, and fascinating enough to make me to think about people’s perceptions of me as a person and a leader.
The book is an Italian novel first published in the 1920s called One, None and One Hundred Thousand, written by Luigi Pirandello. The catalyst for the story is a comment from the main character’s wife about his crooked nose, which sparks a thought that the person he believes himself to be is not necessarily the same person that other perceive him to be.
In theory, there could be hundreds, or even thousands, of other versions of him sitting in the minds of everyone he’d ever met, no matter how briefly. There were possibly even versions in the minds of those who had simply heard of him, without meeting him themselves.
The story follows his descent into madness as he struggles to shake off this thought…I should make it clear that it wasn’t this element of the story that made me think about my own life!
Whether we like to admit it or not, everyone we know will perceive us, our actions, and our leadership in different ways. We are no different when we form opinions on the actions and leadership of others. Our initial impressions and opinions often prove hard to change, requiring consistency and evidence that those initial impressions may have been misplaced to change them.
What can make this harder to accept is that the perceptions of us by others are partly beyond our control, influenced by a wide variety of factors including their own previous experiences of leadership, their personality, and preferences amongst others.
It is important to acknowledge however, that effective leadership is linked to consistency. If you catch someone on the wrong day, or vice versa, during your first interactions then there is a likelihood that the first impression might not be the one you had hoped for. But if the leadership values you strongly believe in are apparent through your words and actions on a regular basis, they become hard to dispute and those earliest perceptions of you can be changed over time.
Great leaders aren’t just skilled at handling challenging situations, they support their teams to overcome them, providing consistency and stability when it is most needed. A team who sees inconsistency in times of calm will lack confidence in their leadership during times of crisis.
With that in mind, I would encourage all leaders, whether experienced or new to leadership, to take some time to reflect on who you want to be as a leader and how you want to be seen. Once you have reflected, identify a handful of behaviours that you can confidently commit to putting into practice on a regular basis. If you stick to them, there is every chance that you’ll be able to gradually adjust the perception of others over time, even if their first impression wasn’t quite what you had hoped it to be.
As in many walks of life, consistency is key…
Head of Fundraising – Thera Trust: www.thera.co.uk
Trustee – Boccia England: www.bocciaengland.org.uk
Director – Loughborough Lawn Tennis Club: www.loughboroughtennisclub.co.uk