How to be perceived as a leader

True leaders cultivate an environment in which each team member feels valued and empowered. | Freepik

True leaders cultivate an environment in which each team member feels valued and empowered. | Freepik

Published May 16, 2024



BEING perceived as a leader is not merely a function of title or position, as many professionals falsely presume. Rather, it is a complex interplay of actions, decisions and interpersonal dynamics that signal your readiness to take the helm.

For peak performers aspiring to climb the ranks in their career, the journey involves more than mastering job-specific skills or accumulating accolades. It necessitates a deliberate strategy to cultivate a leadership persona that is recognised and respected by peers, superiors and subordinates alike.

Inspiring purpose

Leadership is an art form crafted over time through experiences, challenges and consistent demonstration of qualities that inspire, motivate and drive teams towards a common goal.

In large part, it is about embodying the vision of the future you are striving to create, making decisions with conviction, and earning the trust and respect of those around you.

However, navigating this path requires both ambition and an understanding of the subtle nuances that can elevate your perception from that of a capable contributor to a strategic leader. Furthermore, demonstrating an unwavering commitment to innovation and an ability to communicate this vision compellingly can influence others to take action.

True leaders inspire a sense of purpose and belonging among their teams; fostering an atmosphere where each member feels valued and empowered. This requires a delicate balance of humility and confidence - where the leader is seen as approachable and relatable, yet well-grounded in their convictions.

At its core, leadership is an exercise in human connection, founded on the trust and respect you earn through your actions and interactions.

Perception pitfalls

The transition from being a team member to being viewed as a leader is fraught with subtleties that require not just skill and determination, but also a keen awareness of common traps that can undermine your efforts. This awareness is the first line of defence against the inadvertent behaviours and decisions that can obscure your leadership potential, instead of highlighting it.

Here are five mistakes that could hurt your ability to be perceived as a leader:

Failing to listen actively - Leadership is as much about listening as it is about directing. Overlooking the insights, concerns and contributions of team members can isolate you and diminish your effectiveness as a leader. Active listening fosters respect, trust and collaboration, which are all essential components of a healthy team dynamic.

• Failing to listen activelyNeglecting personal growth - Resting on your laurels or becoming complacent about personal development can stunt your leadership trajectory. Continuous learning, openness to feedback, and a commitment to self-improvement are hallmarks of great leaders.

• Failing to listen activelyUnderestimating EQ - Emotional intelligence (EQ) plays a pivotal role in leadership. The ability to understand and manage your emotions as well as those of others can enhance your leadership capabilities - improving communication, conflict resolution and team cohesion.

• Failing to listen activelyOver-reliance on authority - Leveraging positional power to compel obedience can yield compliance, but not commitment. True leadership inspires action through influence and not authority; fostering a culture of mutual respect and shared purpose.

• Failing to listen activelyIgnoring the power of visibility - Remaining in the shadows or avoiding the limelight can make it difficult for others to recognise your leadership potential. Visibility through active participation in key projects and company initiatives is crucial for being perceived as a leader.

Strategic vision

It is vital to possess a strategic vision to guide both your actions and inspire those around you to move collectively towards a shared future.

This is where you see beyond the day-to-day operations - anticipating future trends, challenges, and opportunities; and aligning your team’s efforts accordingly. It is about crafting a narrative of where the organisation is heading, why it matters and how each team member plays a crucial role in that journey.

For effective leaders, the ability to project this vision is what separates the truly influential from the merely competent.

Your strategic vision encompasses more than just business objectives - it includes an understanding of the broader industry landscape, technological advancements and societal shifts. It is also a comprehensive outlook that considers the external forces shaping the market, as well as internal capabilities and culture.

Moreover, a strategic vision is never static - it evolves. In order to be perceived as a leader, you must stay ahead of the curve; constantly gathering information, reassessing the landscape and refining your vision.

This agility allows you to pivot when necessary, seizing opportunities and mitigating risks. It is this combination of foresight, flexibility and action that empowers teams, instils confidence and drives progress.

When done right, your vision would be accessible and actionable for everyone, from the executive board to the frontline employees. This requires a deep connection with the team, an understanding of the organisational capabilities, and a commitment to continuous improvement and innovation.

To embody and demonstrate strategic vision effectively, you need to navigate between future possibilities and present realities. It involves inspiring and motivating - but also planning, executing and adjusting as needed.

Uman is a career strategy coach and workplace expert