There’s a saying that perception is equal to reality, and in many ways it’s a very accurate statement. I’ve written about the role of perceptions a few times in recent weeks. For instance, it’s well known that our perceptions of ourselves don’t tend to be that accurate. It’s known as the illusory superiority bias, and is common for a wide range of character traits.
Interestingly however, this excessive level of belief in our own abilities can be rather persuasive. A second article explored the way that others start believing our inflated claims regarding our ability, even when they have evidence that we’re nowhere near as good as we think we are.
It’s all a bit of a minefield of Matrix proportions isn’t it where we don’t really know what’s real and what isn’t any more? The fascinating thing is that this propensity to misread ourselves gets worse the higher up the corporate ladder you go.
Everyone likes their boss, don’t they?
A study by the IESE business school highlights just how challenging this situation is. The research, conducted by Professor Sebastien Brion, tackled the thorny issue of whether managers had a strong grasp of how their subordinates feel about them. The results make fascinating reading.
Brion’s research divided participants into several work groups. In each group the participants were assigned positions with various levels of power. Some would be very powerful, others much less so. After going about the tasks assigned to them, each participant was interviewed about proceedings. The aim was to gain an understanding of how those with power were interacting with their low power colleague.
Of course my team loves me...
Almost without fail, the participants given power by the researchers believed that their low power colleagues on the task were hugely supportive of them and their work.
...yeah my boss is a @~#$
When the questions were asked of their low power colleague however, the view wasn’t quite the same. Indeed, in some of the teams it emerged that the low power participants in the group would start to gang up on their boss in a Lord of the Flies style coup. They did this even though it generally speaking wasn’t at all in their interests to do so.
All of which is not only fascinating, but also rather alarming. The managers in the assignment were not only awful at understanding their own personal strengths and weaknesses, but they were also pretty bloody clueless about how their teams felt about them too. They had literally no idea about how much respect their team had in them or how much support they could rely upon.
This alarming situation makes it all the more apparent that strong feedback mechanisms are crucial for the effective operation of any team. It’s vital that employees, certainly high up in the food chain, get regular and candid feedback on how they are performing, but also on how they are perceived by other members of the organisation.
This seems the only route open to us if we’re to ensure that our managers gain a more accurate insight into how they’re perceived. Of course, given the narcissistic tendencies that can often prevail in managers, maybe they don’t really care either way? That’s probably a thought for another blog.