Yearly Archives: 2015

Managing Perceptions: Leverage ThemPosted on December 27, 2015

Kendall L. Stewart, MD, MBA, DLFAPA

Why are leaders hesitant to do this?

Passionate leaders see opportunities where others see only problems.  Faced with colleagues whose perceptions are markedly different from theirs, insecure leaders typically make one of two mistakes: They may conclude that others’ perceptions are insurmountable barriers and give up. At the other extreme, they may waste time and energy attempting to change perceptions that are already petrified. When people promote their perceptions to convictions, they are no longer open to a different point of view.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

You can leverage others’ perceptions even when you don’t agree with them. You can use their perceptions to make your case by acknowledging their perspectives and then offering a compelling rebuttal. By highlighting the differences in your points of view, you will invite undecided colleagues to choose sides based on the merits of the opposing arguments. In the contest between reasonable and unreasonable people, most people will eventually agree with the reasonable crowd because they don’t want to be viewed as unreasonable themselves. If you are not perceived as reasonable most of the time, you will not be very effective as a leader.

How can you do it?

Clarify others’ perceptions up front. Don’t make the mistake of assuming what others perceive, feel or believe. They will promptly use your mistaken conclusions against you.

Admit that reasonable people often have different perceptions. Be careful not to challenge the perceiver, just the perception.

Use others’ perceptions as leverage. Sometimes, you should just admit they are right and thank them for setting you straight. Sometimes you can make a compelling case their perceptions are, in fact, misperceptions. Sometimes you can use their perceptions to point out the contrast between their case and yours.

How have you successfully leveraged others’ perceptions?


Managing Perceptions: Appeal to Open-Mindedness and FairnessPosted on December 20, 2015

Kendall L. Stewart, MD, MBA, DLFAPA

Why are leaders hesitant to do this?

Faced with colleagues who have made up their minds and do not wish to entertain another perspective, most leaders will be tempted to give up. Insecure people are comforted by certainty. They need to feel they are right and everyone else is wrong. They have joined a belief tribe, and they feel they must defend that tribe at all costs. Make no mistake. If you disagree with these people, you are the enemy.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

But not everyone has drunk the Kool-Aid. There are always those who are open to another point of view, even anxious to hear it. If you don’t make the opposing argument, the undecided folks will assume there is no such case to be made. Failure to seize this opening will be an opportunity lost. The logical folks take pride in being open-minded and thoughtful. They want to be fair. They want to hear both sides before making up their minds. They are not impressed by stridency. They are impressed by a reasonable and non-judgmental approach.

How can you do it?

Admit that honorable people may have a different perspective. The last thing you want to do when you are hoping to make an opposing case is raise hackles. When a leader makes thoughtful people defensive, the case is lost.

Ask for permission to make your case. Seek a fair hearing and thoughtful consideration instead of blind allegiance. Admit that people are going to make up their minds on their own. Strive to be heard, not to sell.

Begin by admitting the strong questions your opponents have raised. This demonstrates the sense of fairness and open mindedness you hope others will extend to you. This approach does not weaken your case. It strengthens it.

Offer a reasonable rebuttal. Do not make it personal. Do not lampoon your opponents as the village idiots. Seek only a fair hearing.

Ask for consideration. Do not demand a decision on the spot. Ask people to reflect and support the side with the better case.

Thank them for the opportunity to influence their perceptions. This step is easy to forget, particularly when the decision does not go your way. But there will be other opportunities to persuade, and you will want to be invited to make your case again. Even when people are opposed to your position, you don’t want them to be opposed to you.

How have you successfully appealed to open mindedness and fairness?


Managing Perceptions: Make an Evidence-Based CasePosted on December 13, 2015

Kendall L. Stewart, MD, MBA, DLFAPA

Why are leaders hesitant to do this?

Unsubstantiated opinions are a lot easier to come by. Thoughtful decisions require thought. Evidence-based decisions require some research and reflection. Such approaches demand time and energy and most leaders don’t love this kind of work. Leaders want to decide and move on. Like everyone else, leaders want things to be easy, simple, quick and fun. Making a compelling case is none of these.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

Only the troublemakers are anxious for you to make an impulsive decision. Everyone else is depending on you to remain detached, to ask clarifying questions and to consider the pros and cons carefully. While the unreasonable folk are eager to have you agree with them or do something outrageous so they can disparage you, most of the people you serve expect you to be reasonable. Being reasonable and data-driven is an exceptionally effective leadership strategy. It models appropriate decision making and throws the mischief-makers off balance.

How can you do it?

Stifle your urge to start persuading others right away. When you find yourself selling an idea before you have considered the pros and cons, you are leading impulsively, not intentionally. Train yourself to view your initial passion for or against any proposal as a caution flag.

Invite those with a different perspective to help you identify the pros and cons of an emerging issue. This will not come naturally to you. We really only want to hear the opinions of those who agree with us. Make yourself uncomfortable by consulting with folks who ordinarily disagree with you and your perspectives.

Begin by making the case against doing what you think is best. This will allow you to make a convincing case by addressing the most difficult issues right up front. If it is clear to others that you are being intellectually honest, they will tend to respect that even if only grudgingly.

How have you successfully managed perceptions by making a compelling case?


Managing Perceptions: Manage Negative Opinion LeadersPosted on December 6, 2015

Kendall L. Stewart, MD, MBA, DLFAPA

Why are leaders hesitant to do this?

Most opinion leaders are opinionated. They have already made up their minds. Opinion leaders don’t generally weigh both sides of the issue or conduct careful research before they announce their conclusions to the world. These are the talk show hosts of the workplace. They are more interested in ratings than in being right. Leaders are understandably hesitant to approach them because they suspect they will not get a fair hearing.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

These partisans are called opinion leaders for a reason. They influence others. It’s true that they have the most impact on the people who feel the same way they do, but they do have an impact. For this reason, you cannot afford to ignore them entirely. Sometimes, you will agree with their views. Sometimes their complaints will help you to leverage the disruptive environment they have created to make some needed change. Most of the time, these folks will lead the opposition. In this case, you must effectively rebut their claims to make a compelling case. In every case, managing the opinion leaders in your work environment is one of the keys to your success as a leader.

How can you do it?

Figure out who they are. These are the people holding forth in the break rooms and dining rooms. They will rarely bring their concerns directly to you. They prefer to talk behind leaders’ backs. They are not interested in having their perceptions challenged by the facts or a different perspective.

Get their position down. You will usually have to piece this together from their listeners. When directly confronted, they will often deny saying what they said.

Don’t take it personally. Being disagreeable is their nature. If you listen carefully, you will discover these people tend to criticize everything and everyone. It’s just who they are.

Thank them for asking the hard questions. They see all the weaknesses in your case. They suspect the worst motives. All of these force you to make a more compelling case. Critics are a blessing. Their contributions do not feel like blessings, but when you reframe them as blessings, you will feel better about their contributions.

How have you successfully managed opinion leaders in your organization?


Managing Perceptions: Become a Truth-SeekerPosted on November 29, 2015

Kendall L. Stewart, MD, MBA, DLFAPA

Why are leaders hesitant to do this?

Like everyone else, leaders bring their perceptions and biases with them to every meeting. Leaders typically have strong opinions about how things ought to be, and they usually want others to go along with them. Leaders are further handicapped because the people around them are inclined to tell them what they want to hear. Disagreeing with folks in power is not generally viewed as career enhancing. Leaders live farther from the truth than the folks on the front lines. First, powerful people are strongly inclined to delude themselves. Second, the people around them are inclined to play along. And a lot of people like it this way.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

You cannot manage perceptions until you know what they are. And you will never know others’ perceptions unless you convince them that you really want to know. The truth is often unpleasant. A good number of people are not passionate about their work. They don’t have a sense of meaning and purpose, and they don’t care. They just work to pay the bills. They don’t want to win, or stand out or go the extra mile. And they don’t like your pushing them to. Others frankly disagree with your priorities or the ways you go about trying to get things done. Some don’t like your personality. Many will have made up their minds about the kind of person you are based entirely on what others have said about you. Difficult as these perceptions are to hear, they exist. You must acknowledge them and manage them.

How can you do it?

Face the truth yourself. You don’t know what you don’t know. If you persist in believing what you want to believe without recognizing that you are not fully informed and therefore at least partially mistaken, you will never get to the truth.

Make learning the truth your passion. If you are serious about knowing what others think, people will eventually start telling you the truth. People are pretty good about figuring out what leaders really want. If you want to be told what you want to hear, people will sense that and accommodate you.

Thank people for telling you the truth. Honesty is risky and demands uncommon courage. Those who will be truthful are your greatest leadership assets. Let them know how much you appreciate their frankness, even when it stings.

Build relationships with people on the front line. They are living closest to reality. They have the best view of the gap between what reality is and what you want it to be.

Tell the truth yourself. People will never believe you want to hear the truth if they don’t see you speaking the truth. The most important truth you can tell is the truth about yourself. And that’s the hardest truth to tell.

How have you sought and discovered the truth in your work environment?


Managing Perceptions: Isolate ThemPosted on November 22, 2015

Kendall L. Stewart, MD, MBA, DLFAPA

Why are leaders hesitant to do this?

Leaders are an optimistic bunch. They believe they can win anyone over. They are not inclined to give up. They want everyone to support the cause. In their pursuit of total buy in, they often overlook the value of opposition in achieving their ultimate goals. Drawing a sharp contrast between “who is with us and who is not” can force the fence sitters and the disinterested to throw in with the winning side. Isolating the negative people is costly. Once marginalized publicly, they are likely to identify with the permanent opposition. Leaders should always think more than twice before turning hearts to stone.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

There are occasions when isolating negative perceptions must be done whatever the costs. When you are in a competitive fight for your life, you cannot permit traitors to go unpunished. When a colleague has made it clear that he will oppose everything you suggest on partisan grounds alone, you cannot treat him as reasonable. Respectful dissent in the pursuit of exceptional results is an organizational treasure; disruptive dissent is an organizational cancer. If you can’t eliminate it entirely—and you usually cannot—you must quarantine it. That you can do.

How can you do it?

Decide that isolation of negative perceptions is the best option. Take some time to make this tough decision. Consult with others. Never decide this when you are angry or resentful.

Ask other opinion leaders to help you isolate the disruptive dissenters. You will not be able to accomplish this alone. Culling these diseased animals from the herd requires leaders to coordinate their herding efforts and hunt as a pack.

Never allow this leadership tool to become personal. People are entitled to their views. Make it clear that you accept and respect that. Make it equally clear that you are responsible for the final decision about how the organization will proceed.

Find a way to allow the isolated dissenters back into the fold. Sometimes you will turn out to have been wrong. Admit they were right. Invite them to lead an important project they do believe in. So long as they remain net positive, give them a chance to redeem themselves.

Extrude the net-negative people from the organization. Do it fairly, but do it sooner rather than later. This is painful and no leader wants to do it. When temporary isolation does not work, your job as a leader is to isolate them permanently.

How have you successfully isolated those with disruptive perceptions in the workplace?


Managing Perceptions: Ignore ThemPosted on November 15, 2015

Kendall L. Stewart, MD, MBA, DLFAPA

Why are leaders hesitant to do this?

Leaders make two mistakes when dealing with perceptions. They don’t take them seriously enough, or they take them too seriously. Those leaders who can’t stand the idea of not being loved by everyone make the latter mistake. These sensitive souls are paralyzed by their fears of rejection and allow their colleagues who squeak the shrillest to call the shots. Deluded that they must have everyone’s support before they do anything, they permit disruptive dissenters to hold them hostage. These timid leaders are too concerned about what others think and feel. Those who wait for unanimity will spend most of their lives waiting.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

You are never going to change some minds. You will never enjoy complete support. You will never be free from criticism or determined opposition. Some will always perceive your motives as mendacious, your style as abrasive and rude and your goals as self-serving. So be it. When you have reasonably concluded that such perceptions cannot be changed, ignore them. Naysayers are the carnival barkers of organizational life. Learn to walk on by.

How can you do it?

Recognize that some perceptions are best ignored. Admittedly, such distractions are annoying, but you must not waste precious time and energy banging your head on emotional walls.

Build a consensus that consensus is not attainable. Consult with your movers and shakers. When they are ready to give up and move on, don’t weaken their readiness by pursuing lost causes.

Explain yourself. Acknowledge the negative perceptions and your desire to bring the disagreeable people around, but point out that you can’t wait for everyone to get on board.

Acknowledge that people are entitled to their perceptions. Heck, admit that the critics may turn out to have been right all along. They will certainly be right some of the time.

Express hope that the dissenters will eventually come around. This leaves the door open for people to change their minds when the evidence begins to mount. Skeptics play a vital role in most organizations. They are the doubters. They want to see the proof. These people never make impulsive commitments, but when they are convinced, they don’t tire as quickly as the early adopters do.

How have you successfully ignored negative perceptions?


Managing Perceptions: Shape ThemPosted on November 8, 2015

Kendall L. Stewart, MD, MBA, DLFAPA

Why are leaders hesitant to do this?

Shaping others’ perceptions is hard work. It demands the wisdom to recognize that most peoples’ perceptions have already hardened. It demands the patience to give colleagues the time to change and the persistence to chip away at sclerotic attitudes over months or even years. It demands the maturity to realize that most perceptions will never change and the determination to change those you can and must. It is no wonder that most leaders are hesitant to engage in this mind-breaking work. It is much easier to spend time with those who agree with you and leave the perception sculpting to others.

What is the case for doing it anyway?        

Leaders succeed by persuading people to see reality a different way, to believe that the impossible can be done. Leaders don’t settle for the way things have always been. They question the conventional wisdom. They ask the uncomfortable questions that reveal flawed assumptions and deep-seated prejudices. They understand this is the only way to rise above the mediocrity that most of us have accepted as “just the way it is.” Such leaders acknowledge the power of perceptions by seeking to influence them and, when necessary, to change them. They understand this hard road is the only path to sustained leadership success.

How can you do it?

Clarify current perceptions. Ask people what they think. Invite them to explain why they think that. They may not have recognized or reflected on their underlying perceptions before.

Accept their current perceptions as reasonable. If you were in their shoes, you would see things the same way they do.

Suggest an alternative perspective or explanation. This ability to recognize one’s basic assumptions, to admit that they may not be entirely accurate and to modify them into more evidence-based beliefs is the basis for cognitive therapy. This carefully-documented mental strategy has changed millions of lives for the better.

Make the case that it is possible—even desirable—to change one’s perceptions in the face of compelling new evidence. Most people will insist they can change their minds if necessary; they just don’t find it necessary very often.

Make the case. That’s your job. You must make it clear that minds need to change and why.

How have you shaped other’s perceptions?


Managing Perceptions: Challenge Them (Gently)Posted on November 1, 2015

Kendall L. Stewart, MD, MBA, DLFAPA

Why are leaders hesitant to do this?

People embrace their perceptions with intensity and defend them vigorously—particularly when they have no objective evidence for them. Leaders are sorely tempted to dismiss such perceptions, to ridicule them or to revile those who harbor them. Some leaders confront such perceptions directly and vigorously. These approaches only harden the opposition. The only value of disdain is to provide the leader with a temporary sense of superiority. We are all products of an evolutionary process that has produced brains that adopt beliefs first. Then we selectively look for the “evidence” that will reassure us we are right. We instinctively believe our perceptions are reasonable and those that differ are unreasonable.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

If you don’t understand and accept others’ perceptions first, you will not be able to persuade them to reconsider or modify them. While you will never be able to bring everyone around to your point of view, you must persuade at least a sufficient number of folks to help you produce organizational results. A leader cannot be a leader without followers. That means you must approach others’ perceptions with care.

How can you do it?

Seek first to understand. This may be the best advice Stephen Covey ever gave. If your colleagues sense you are faking interest, they will clam up. And from then on, they will be against whatever you are for.

Ask clarifying questions. Make sure you understand exactly what their perceptions are and why they think and feel the way they do. Avoid the temptation to be argumentative or disparaging in your tone. After all, they may be right and you may be wrong.

Admit that their perception is one possible explanation. When people say this is the way it is and this is the reason why, their perceptions and deductions are usually possible however unreasonable you may judge them to be.

Ask whether they have considered any other possible explanations? If they have, explore them. If they have not, inquire whether they would be interested in doing so. You will be amazed at the number of times they will tell you they have made up their minds and do not wish to consider any other viewpoints.

When all else fails, agree to disagree. Remain unfailingly agreeable while doing so. Reaffirm that you have a lot of common ground. And different perceptions make life much less boring.

How have you challenged others’ perceptions successfully?


Managing Perceptions: Accept ThemPosted on October 25, 2015

Kendall L. Stewart, MD, MBA, DLFAPA

Why are leaders hesitant to do this?

Being open minded is not nearly as easy as it sounds. When others disagree with us, it is hard not to become defensive. This is especially true when they are nasty or adopt an arrogant tone—a time-honored technique embraced by generations of insecure people. Remaining cool and collected when under attack is first a worthy goal, then an act and finally the genuine posture of a mature physician leader. This takes time and practice. Reading about it in a leadership blog is not enough. It is a start though.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

Until you have accepted others’ perceptions as reasonable and legitimate, you have no chance of changing them—or learning from them and modifying your own. People have their perceptions and they are among their most treasured possessions. The more unreasonable they are, the more resistant they are to modification or abandonment. This means you cannot ignore them or allow yourself to be surprised by them. Perceptions must be accepted and managed respectfully. This is not just a nice thing to do. It is the only approach that works.

How can you do it?

View this as your duty. Leaders exist to produce results. You cannot produce results until you take this first step.

Recognize your arousal. Your heart rate will accelerate. Your respirations will increase. Your voice will be shaky. Your benign familial tremor will worsen. You will feel the urge to say something stupid. Emotional arousal is hard to miss—except in yourself.

Keep your mouth shut. Most of what you say when you are hurt or angry you will regret later.

Calm yourself. This will usually take a few minutes. Making eye contact and nodding your understanding helps. Deep breaths help. Taking notes can be helpful. Pretend you are a disinterested reporter.

Ask clarifying questions. Wait until you are calm enough to ask questions without being surly or appearing put upon.

State your understanding and acceptance. You do not have to agree. You just have to make it clear that you get it. When you have accurately summarized others’ perceptions, ask whether you’ve got it and whether there is anything else they want to make sure you understand. React the way you would with a difficult patient. The skill set is pretty much the same.

How have you accepted others’ perceptions as legitimate even when you strongly disagreed with them?


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