Solution Saturday: How to Change Perceptions

Dear Dan,

I work for a great company, don’t all questions start this way?  Lately, we’ve been having a lot of conversations about perception. It’s such a difficult thing to predict or change.

How do you change perceptions of those you lead?

Also, how do you coach those you lead, to work around perceptions that may be holding back their personal growth and development?




Dear Misperceived,

One of the great frustrations of leadership is feeling one way on the inside and being perceived another way by others. We all want to be known and accepted for who we really are.

3 common misperceptions:

  1. Strong aggressive leaders are cold hearted.
  2. Quiet leaders are weak.
  3. Leaders who lead from the back are passive or lack courage.

In order to feel like we belong in a role or organization, we must feel seen, understood, and respected for who we are.

The greater the disconnect between what’s on the inside and external perceptions, the deeper our disappointment, frustration, and lack of fulfillment.

Changing other people’s perceptions:

The journey always begins with you.

You can influence others – you can’t change them.

#1. Determine how you want to be perceived as a leader. Reflect on your personality, talent, and strengths. What do they suggest? Don’t get lost in what others expect.

Get a clear idea of who you are before thinking about how you want to be perceived.

#2. Accept yourself and commit to develop yourself. Avoid the easy way out, when it comes to growth. You might be tempted to rule out something because it feels awkward. Give new behaviors a try, as long as they don’t clearly violate your values.

#3. Practice transparency with your team. Declare what’s in your heart. Tell them what you really want.

When leaders practice transparency, it often opens the hearts of others.

#4. Turn to the future, not the past, when you declare your heart.

Focus on aspiration, more than frustration.

#5. Identify a mentor. Look for a leader who is perceived by others in ways that match your aspirations.

#6. Reject ambiguity. Adopt specific behaviors that impact the perception of others. 

#7. Include key players. Don’t tell everyone what’s going on. Share the journey with a few trusted colleagues.


Don’t lose yourself to the expectations of others.

Never place external expectations above personal values. For example, experienced leaders may want you to emulate their style. After all, it worked for them, it will work for you. The stronger the leaders on your team, the more pressure they may exert.

  1. Thank them for their suggestion.
  2. Explore the goals they are trying to achieve.
  3. Embrace their goals, as long as they are ethical and align with organizational goals.
  4. Reject their strategies, if you are certain they don’t align with who you are. When in doubt, test drive their suggestions and evaluate.
  5. Discuss alternative behavior-based strategies that achieve their goals.
  6. Test drive new behaviors.
  7. Discuss results. How did new behaviors work? Did you have a growing sense of authenticity? It’s worth it to give this some time.


Changing established perceptions is extremely difficult.

  1. Identify how you want to show up.
  2. Don’t push against others.
  3. Stay open.
  4. Settle in for the long haul.

Coaching others:

The second part of your email is about helping others with misperceptions. I suggest a 360 degree assessment. We often need to see how others see us, in order to see ourselves more clearly.

You might try a 360 as part of your journey as well.

How might leaders change the misperceptions of others?