Art… “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” it is said. Take any picture in an art museum; what I see and how it makes me feel could be totally different from what you think. Survey a group of ten people; you are likely to get ten different opinions.


Perception… is it our own reality? Or, is there really an illusion taking place? Our senses tricked to think another way? I would even say it could cause separation anxiety from ourselves, causing us to ask, “What am I supposed to think?”

I’m going somewhere with this… hang in there with me.

Is leadership an illusion of our perceptions? What determines the reality of our perceptions?

I was reading an article the other day, and it referenced the following psychological demonstration from the work of S.E. Asch as an example of how we view leaders.

Read this slowly…

“If I describe a man as warm, intelligent, ambitious, and thoughtful, you get one kind of picture of him. But if I describe another person as cold, ambitious, thoughtful, and intelligent, you probably get a picture of a very different sort of man. Yet I have merely changed one word and the order of a couple of others. The kind of preparation that one adjective gives for those that follow is tremendously effective in determining what meaning will be given to them. The term “thoughtful” may mean thoughtful of others or perhaps rational when it is applied to a warm person toward whom we have already accepted a positive orientation. But as applied to a cold man the same term may mean brooding, calculating, plotting. We must learn to be aware of the degree to which one set of observations about a man may lead us to erroneous conclusions about his other behavior.”¹

I hope that made sense. Just think, change a word and the order, and we have two completely different people… based on nothing more than our perception. I believe this to be our reality as we view those in leadership.

As I read the above example, I have come to a conclusion… leaders and their leadership are perceived only on the notion of what our perception of them is at any given time. More about the effects when we have a stake in the decision as it is made. And that is why leadership is so difficult. That is not to say there are bad “leaders” out there because I genuinely believe they are. However, how we recognize and understand leadership takes on only our perception.

Abracadabra, hocus pocus… what you see is really not there or is it? An illusion of whose reality? It depends solely on you and your perceptions. The climate and culture of any organization are collectively shaped by experiences and interpretation.

Quality leadership that sets leaders apart is the ability to understand different perceptions. What we determine about leaders becomes their perception, which becomes a reality for them.

¹ Asch, S. E. (1946). Forming impressions of personality. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 41(3), 258–290.

Go be a great educator and leader today… Our future needs it…

Remember… Think Leadership and Be For Others…

©2021 J Clay Norton

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