The Importance of Perception

Importance of Perception - 1“It is more important to the rest of the world that your American president appear or be or be perceived to be a leader than for him to actually be a leader.”

This was a statement made by some colleagues at dinner the other night. I have been in Spain for most of this past week on a business trip. And all of my colleagues are not from the United States. One was from New Zealand, one was from Belgium, one was from the U.K., and the folks we were meeting were all from Spain. So, I tried to keep my mouth shut as much as possible lest I create an inter nation incident!

But I am struck by this question: What are the implications of this kind of thinking?

This was a painful thought for me to consider and it has been on my mind since the moment that one of them said it to me.

What does that mean about leadership?  Is that a statement about political leadership in particular? Is any part of that sentiment true?  What about your leadership role?

Importance of Perception - 3My colleagues were insistent that their native countries didn’t really care about our president’s actual leadership ability. All they cared about was the the rest of the world needed to perceive that he is a strong leader.  They were convinced that in order for their to be stability and peace, our president must be perceived to be a great leader by the other nations of the world.  And they indicated, that sadly, he was not perceived as much of a leader in Europe.  In fact, they were greatly disappointed in his performance and perception up to this point.

As if that were not bad enough, they seemed to indicate that we in the U.S. should be more concerned about his perception than his performance, abilities, or actions. This is a deeply troubling thing for me. For to me, it is far more important to “be” than to “appear to be”.

I am not sure where I am going with this concept. But I want to get these thoughts out and see if I can generate some comments and some conversations. I think I know where I want to go and how I want to develop my thoughts. But I really want to hear from you.

Photo credit: Barack Obama / Foter / (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Photo credit: Foter / (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Photo credit: Barack Obama / Foter / (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

6 Replies to “The Importance of Perception”

  1. (Correcting some typos).

    Interesting post, and some interesting comments. With that, I think that the comments from abroad display a lack of a genuine appreciation for the character of leadership. On one level, perception does matter. One’s capacity to effect genuine leadership is limited if others do not perceive one to have leadership qualities. However, as is the case with so many things, execution has to follow perception. In the case of the current Administration, they display a capacity for soaring, often inspiring rhetoric that is rarely followed by concrete action. The lack of concerted follow-through necessarily leads to a perception of a lack of leadership.

    1. Wayne, Thank you for your comment. I think you nailed it with the very last sentence of your comment. Ultimately a lack of results will lead to a perception of a lack of leadership.

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