“All of them complained? Impossible! I am an excellent leader.” Years ago, these very words were uttered by a middle-level manager whose entire team went to the higher-ups to complain about him due to his tendency to demotivate his employees, act in bullying and belligerent manner, utterly lacking understanding for how to lead effectively. The manager’s condescending attitude and the general absence of any good leadership traits were well-known by all except him.  At the time, this disconnect between his perception of his leadership style and the reality on the ground level was quite stunning. Perceivably, one of the company’s “worst leaders,” had a very different image of himself. Without dwelling on his personality type, laced with narcissistic tendencies, reflecting on this story many years later, one has to wonder how some leaders/managers generally lack any sort of self-awareness, hindering their ability to identify their opportunities. This leads to their failure to project whatever image they would like others to see, on their quest of inspiring others to follow vs. rebel against them.

Avoiding the above-described scenario is impossible without defining the relationship between perception and leadership. There are ways for leaders to use or not use their perceptive abilities.

According to the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Norte Dame, good managers ask questions and listen to others while observing their body language.  Good managers “sense” things at a much broader spectrum than regular “gut feeling/knee jerk” reactions. Sensing the market movements, industry shifts, changes within the company, and general mood swings of  their employees is a desired trait , but not the one that comes naturally to all leaders.

Using perceptive abilities to sense employees’ attitudes,  observe performance, pay attention and at times even anticipate and predict movements within the teams and company, in general, is what separates great leaders from the ones who are less than effective.

Ensuring one’s perception is not causing leaders to encounter blind spots and get in the way of good leadership is another way of ensuring perception works for us vs. against us. The biggest tip in this area is one’s ability to put his/her perception aside while listening to the opinions of others. In the article published in Inc. Magazine, the founder and CEO of Skybell Video Doorbell, Andrew Thomas, said, “that effective leaders welcome beliefs contrary to their own…” The name of the game is to suppress perceptive skills of talking and biases while nurturing the perceptive ability to listen to others. John Spence, one of the world’s  top leadership development experts, named by the American Management Association as one of America’s Top 50 leaders to watch, advocates leader’s ability to change when the situation warrants it, thereby pointing out the fluid nature of our own perceptions with agility being the leader’s key trait, as different standpoints are presented.

Sharing accountability with the employees versus only pointing out their opportunties gets their buy-in, their trust, and their loyalty. It is “our goal” and “we can do this” versus “your goal” and “you have to.” Simple verbiage adjustment may be a difference between one’s perception of “we are in this together” versus “I am all alone on this island of failed opportunities.”

Fear of failure is a common human trait, but it hinders our ability to act, experience, and live to the fullest. In a professional setting, leaders’ fear of failure may result in the negative perception of others, impact general trust in his/her abilities due to indecisiveness, and ultimately impact the effectiveness of employees.

In summary, the gentleman at the beginng of this story would have done much better as a leader if he chose to:

  • Listen, observe, and not judge
  • Sense before making decisions and taking actions
  • Avoid the blind spots of your own making
  • Be agile -recognize one’s own perception when confronted with other’s opinions and respect it
  • Share accountability as an active participant with each task
  • Suppress the fear of failure

The story at the beginning of this article didn’t result in a “happy ending”. The leader in question never improved and failed to step back to reflect on what caused his failure to begin with. After being shifted around through a few different teams, he was ultimately demoted and deemed incapable of leading teams.  Polishing our own perception and being aware of the perception of others is the desired path towards leadership effectiveness, but not necessarily the one mastered by all “wannabe leaders.”

Dr. Maja Zelihic’s book, co-authored with Dr. Diane Hamilton, The Power of Perception-Eliminating Boundaries to Create Successful Business Leaders have been published in December 2020 The authors have spent years researching the EPIC process of perception. With a foreword by original Shark Tank’s Kevin Harrington, endorsed by the top business leaders, the book explores how employees’ evaluation, prediction, interpretation, and correlation of a situation and how they communicate can impact the bottom line.  You can find the book on Amazon https://lnkd.in/dRgVePn


  • Maja Zelihic

    Dr. Maja Zelihic, Fulbright Specialist

    Dr. Maja (Maya) Zelihic is a Fulbright Specialist, Full Professor, and a Department Chair of the Advanced Management Studies at the Forbes School of Business and Technology.  Dr. Zelihic is a Global Dialogue Partner at NAFSA, the world’s largest nonprofit association dedicated to international education. Dr. Zelihic serves on the Board of Advisors of the International Fellowship Program in Arbitration and Scientific Assessment, the comprehensive global academic review platform. She also serves as an industry advisory member at the Amity University Novel Communication Lab (AUNCL). She is an expert in e-learning development and implementation in the developing world. Dr. Zelihc is a Board member at the Center for Women’s Leadership at the Forbes School of Business and Technology, launched in June of 2020. She is published in over 20+ peer-reviewed journals, and her research ventures took her to Haiti, Cuba, Mexico, Panama, Jordan, Zambia, the Balkan region, and many other parts of the world. She is a global speaker, having presented in 20 countries across the globe. In addition to being a Fulbright specialist, she is a four-time recipient of the University Fellows research grants, which enabled many of her global research ventures. Her book on Perception, co-authored with Dr. Diane Hamilton, has just been released and available on Amazon and other sites https://lnkd.in/dRgVePn. Her chapter contribution to the International Leadership Research Handbook is in the final stages of publishing.