It’s no secret that leaders receive a lot of attention. They are involved in highly visible activities, make decisions that affect whole organizations, and interact with countless people. Everything they do is observed by others and accordingly contributes to how people perceive them. These perceptions are very important and powerful as they influence others around them.
How employees think a leader will respond to a specific situation influences what they do related to that situation. Employees ask themselves what will be the leader’s response if they deliver late on this project, don’t call the client back this week, try something that has not been tried before, take a short cut on production and deliver a sub standard product, show up to a meeting late, share bad news, ignore what they were told to do, make a mistake, and many other situational induced choices. What employees do is not a given and affects an organization’s performance, credibility, and reputation.
It is in a leader’s best interest to manage these perceptions and use them to get the best and most out of their staff; however, not all perceptions are created equally and carry the same level of impact. Knowing the most influential perceptions of employees is the first step in developing and tuning your personas. Highly effective leaders have four equally emphasized personas they promote to their staff. They are: gracious, demanding, approachable, and revered. Let’s look at these personas in detail and see what they can do for you.
This persona is reasonable, patient, forgiving, and caring. It informs others you know that they try to do good but at times make mistakes. It knows learning is a process and takes time. It also knows that life is a complex mix of business and personal issues that at times trump one another. Others respond to graciousness by trying new things to get better results, giving extra effort when the situation warrants it, and cutting you some slack when you screw up.
This persona is insistent, rigorous, challenging, and straightforward. It informs people that you know what you want and expect to get it just like that. It pushes people past their perceived limits and shows them they can do more. It also provides direct unfiltered feedback and consequences that make sure the feedback is remembered. Others respond to demandingness by usually being more intense and purposeful when producing deliverables, prompt with milestones and meetings, and are overall crisper in their performance.
This persona is transparent, humble, restrained, and attentive. It informs people that you want them to know who you are and that you want to know them too. It encourages people to come to you and share their thoughts, ideas, and observations. It also lets others know you will not blow things out of proportion and over-react. Others respond to approachability by being more likely to drop their boundaries when around you allowing you to see more of what holds them back professionally, being more forthright and truthful with information, and enjoying being with you.
This persona is commanding, powerful, courageous, and capable. It reminds people that you are the leader and those who follow you will benefit from this. It tells people they have a strong advocate and can rely on you to remove barriers when needed. It also makes them feel a part of something bigger than themselves and their role. Others will respond to reverence by often buying into your vision more, looking out for your best interest and therefore the organization’s best interest, and being proud of where they work.
Each of these personas offsets the influence of one or more of the other personas. This is a good thing as any one of the personas in full force is not a good influence on employees and affects them negatively. When all four are in balance the best possible impact on staff can be found. Most leaders are strong in two or three of these personas and weak in the rest. As a result they are not balanced and are not optimally influencing others.
The good thing is that personas can be learned with intentionality, effort, feedback, and changes in behavior. But don’t think you can fake these personas. Fake personas are not reliable and will produce perceptions that are not congruent with the true personas, resulting in employees being negatively influenced. It is better to put in the work to produce the results you desire. Now that you know what the target is, take a shot at getting there.