Patricia Knight once said “For leaders, what people observe or assess as your ability and your effectiveness as a leader becomes their reality about you (their perception). And what sets great leaders apart from average ones is the ability to manage perceptions”. This wonderful quote aligns perfectly to the statement that perception and reality are often the same things.
As leaders continue to grow and evolve in a world where resiliency, grit, and determination are qualities that are required more, so now than ever, it is also important how the people that follow leaders perceive those qualities. Leadership is a funny thing when you think about it, and It becomes a lot more complex when you apply it in the context of a business environment.
We often forget that leaders are not only required to shape culture and employee performance. They are also required to make some tough decisions that can be very unpopular. Those tough decisions require courage, honour, and wisdom above most qualities that we deem relevant to lead people.
Michael Oher is a former NFL offensive tackle and the progenitor for the movie The Blind Side which starred the wonderful Julia Roberts.
Michael Oher’s story is quite interesting, given his humble beginnings and eventual stumbling across a family that took him in to show him a better way by utilising his natural gifted abilities as an athlete. His journey towards overcoming his past and moving towards the future included a moment where he was required to write an essay in high school to meet the minimum academic requirements to get a scholarship to play “Football at The University of Mississippi.
He wrote an interesting piece called “I Beat the Odds from Homelessness to the Blind Side, and Beyond”, which was more of a biography than anything else but with a slant towards life lessons.
The standout excerpt from that essay was this:
“Courage is a hard thing to figure. You can have courage based on a dumb idea or mistake, but you are not supposed to question adults, your coach, or your teacher, because they make the rules. Maybe they know best, but maybe they do not. It all depends on who you are and where you come from.
Didn’t at least one of the six hundred guys think about giving up, and joining with the other side? I mean, the valley of death? That’s pretty salty stuff. That is why courage is tricky. Should you always do what others tell you to do? Sometimes you might not even know why you’re doing something. I mean any fool can have courage. But honour, that’s the real reason why you either do something or you don’t. It’s who you are and maybe who you want to be. If you die trying for something important, then you have both honour and courage, and that’s pretty good.
I think that’s what the writer said: you should hope for courage and try for honour. And maybe even pray that the people telling you what to do have some, too.” The line “Sometimes you might not even know why you are doing something” Any fool can have courage. But Honour, that’s the real reason you are either doing something or not”.
As simplistic as this essay, the overall message is phenomenal. I think leaders spend too much time looking into their bag of tricks trying to figure out what gimmick to pull out that will address challenges their direct reports may be experiencing. However, being authentic and applying some wisdom to leading people is the way to go.
Leaders do not and should not have all the answers. Being open-minded and having a high curiosity quotient will guide any leader towards showing those they lead how genuine their intentions are instead of trying to look or sound good. After all, if perception is reality, then is not wise and prudent to be consistent with your leadership narrative versus trying to keep up with an image you can never sustain.
It takes a lot of introspection to do the hard and right things. There is no magic wand to this leadership game, which is why we must hope for courage and try for honour as we do.
Head of Training