Tanveer Naseer

Leadership Coach, Speaker, and Writer

Do You Know How Your Leadership Is Perceived?

One of the things I enjoy when travelling around the nearby countryside is taking in the architectural diversity displayed among the churches that dot the landscape. Driving through town after town, the appearance and designs of these buildings are as distinct and unique as the inhabitants who live in these communities. And yet, there’s one feature that most of them share in common and that is the visual prominence of these buildings within these rural settings.

Regardless of the terrain, the location of these churches from afar is easily discernible, even without the presence of those tall spires. In many ways, these sights evoke visually what these institutions are supposed to represent – a beacon offering to those nearby a place of refuge, comfort, and sense of community or belonging. However, in the context of this region’s past, it can also be a reminder of the church’s former, more predominant role within this society – one of authority, control, and domination over the people.

While it’s interesting to see how the visual presentation of these religious structures can create two completely different – if not opposite – perceptions of what its role is in the community, there is also a valuable lesson that leaders can benefit from in examining this situation.

In describing the role of a leader, it is often defined in terms of their function within the larger organization. Of course, while a leader’s function might be clearly defined, what is not so clear is how this role is perceived by those around them, and in particular by those they lead. As with the churches found in these small towns, those in leadership positions can be viewed as a beacon of support, of being in service to those around them by encouraging their strengths and displaying empathy to others. However, just like those churches, a leader can also be seen as an authoritarian; of someone who sees their role as simply to exert their will over others.

Granted, it’s easy for leaders to disregard how they are perceived by their employees. After all, by its most basic definition, a leader is someone others are obliged to follow as a member of that team or organization; we can’t simply refuse to do the work assigned to us by our boss because we don’t want to. And yet, choosing to be oblivious to how your employees view your leadership can seriously impair not only your ability to effectively lead others, but also the capacity your team will have to reach the objectives you collectively set out to accomplish.

In response to the current challenges present in today’s global economy, many businesses and their leaders are under great pressure to deliver tangible and immediate results from their efforts. Faced with these expectations, there is an obvious risk that leaders will put blinders on, focusing only on how to deliver those anticipated results without any concerns about how this approach might impact their team. And yet, in looking at the reason why the church has lost its strong influence in this region, there is a clear warning of the fallout leaders would encounter in either maintaining or fostering this approach to their leadership.

By simply relying on what was historically their established role in the community, the church ignored how their conduct was creating a significant rift between their institution and the people they were meant to serve. As a result of their indifference to how they were being perceived, the church not only saw their role within the community diminish significantly, but they also had to deal with the closure of numerous churches due to a lack of participation and interest among the area’s inhabitants.

Of course, leaders also have a community that they are meant to serve – whether it’s their team of direct reports or all the employees who work for their organization. From this vantage point, the case of the church’s declining influence in this region serves as a cautionary tale for leaders of how critical the perception they foster about their leadership is to their ability to successfully lead others, as well as encourage opportunities for their company’s future growth and development.

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  1. On March 22nd, 2010 at 5:01 PM Peter A. Mello, Week said:

    Enjoyed reading this post which provides some real food for thought.

    Whatever the title the boss may have (ceo, vp, manager, supervisor etc.), it may signify organizational authority but it does not automatically make them a leader. I'm sure that, like me, you've worked for more than a few bosses in your lifetime who you would never describe as leaders. That's why it's essential to separate the role of authority from the exercise of leadership.

    Back to your analogy, I'd suggest that the architecture/structure of the churches you describe closely represent authority while what happens within their four walls represents leadership. Without the exercise of leadership (activity) we end up with empty, abandoned churches, literally and figuratively.

    Enjoy reading your blog and love the layout. Thanks for providing rich leadership content.

    Fair Winds,

    Peter A. Mello

    Weekly Leader | website + podcast
    Twitter: @WeeklyLeader | @petermello

  2. On March 23rd, 2010 at 10:50 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Hi Peter,

    Thanks for that great comment. Yes, like you I’ve had my share of bosses who were more authority figures than genuine leaders. But I also had the pleasure of working with ones who understood the true nature of leadership and the responsibilities they had to their team (you can read more about this in my piece “Leaders, Are You Developing Your Employee’s Super Powers?“). That’s why I agree with you that simply playing an authoritative role within your organization doesn’t equate one with being a leader; that is something you foster and develop through your actions and conduct with your employees.

    I also enjoyed the extrapolation you made with the church analogy I used in this piece. Very insightful and another telling remark for leaders to take note of.

    Thanks again, Peter, for you contributions to this discussion. I appreciate the kind words about my blog and I’m glad to hear you’re enjoying it. 🙂

  3. On March 24th, 2010 at 8:03 AM John Haydon said:

    Tanveer – In my experience working within various corporate cultures, I've noticed that many leaders think that people are meant to serve the leaders. But really, leaders need to serve the people they lead in order to be useful in their roles.

  4. On March 24th, 2010 at 12:26 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    I couldn’t agree with you more, John. There’s still this misguided notion out there that being in a position of authority or leadership implies that you now have power over others when in fact what it really means is having a greater responsibility to others. Leaders are those who understand this, who know their job in the process is to not only provide their employees with the means to excel in their roles, but also protect them from harm and encourage their development so that one day, this leader can walk away from the company knowing it can survive without their direct input.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, John. It was an interesting moment to see these churches and notice the perception duality they create and how that duality also mirrors the role of leadership.

  5. On March 24th, 2010 at 8:40 AM John Haydon said:

    Sounds like a beautiful trip too. Were you on vacation?

  6. On March 24th, 2010 at 8:52 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Actually, we were. My mind was unplugged from work and I had my eyes off the computer and on the world around me. I like to think of this as a real-world example of why we need to take that step back every now and then to get a better sense of context not only on how we operate, but also why we're doing the things we are.

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