Will Salyards
Leadership Coaching and Mentoring

Will Salyards, PhD Blog

Life, Career, Leadership

Perception Determines Leaders

For those of us who see ourselves as leaders we need to know that people certify our leadership based in their mental images of what a leader is. Another way of saying it is that we’re leaders because people think we are. Perceptions do count. It means that when an individual meets our mental criteria, whether or not they identify as a leader, we’re inclined to see them as such. Additionally, it means that we think more favorably of leaders who match our mental images than those who don’t.

Parents are the first leaders we see and the role models that help determine just what is leadership for us. While this isn’t the only source for understanding leadership, it is an important one for two reasons: we tend to prefer the familiar and we tend to accept behavior as good or bad depending on its outcome.

Here's what I mean: negatively, a parent yells and get his/her way. Since, as a child, getting what you want is good, we deduce that yelling is good. The fact that yelling isn’t socially acceptable loses importance to what is familiar, in this case, the parent yelling and the “good” result it produces. In fact, one study found that the traits of manipulation and dominance are more likely to be accepted as images of good leadership while that of compassion is not.

This isn’t to say the only images we take from our family are those of dominance, far from it. While these do impress us and are retained in our memory others are formed too, especially those built around perceptions of behavior. Interestingly, it was discovered that regardless the way a parent says they acted, their children's perception of it is what came to be modeled in their own leadership.

What Does It Mean? I think it means that people could react negatively to us and for no apparent reason. Conversely, it could mean that people will look up to us even when we don't have a formal leadership position. Is it really that connected? Literally, no, but our images/memories of leading and leadership, whether we knew them as such, do inform how we see leaders.

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