Leaders who don’t consider that perception and bias are are affecting their view of reality  are reducing their influence and effectiveness.

What is real according to our brain?

There are two brain features that define reality and limit leadership development. These two aspects are the hidden ways in which you handle your work relationships at every single moment.

  1. Your Amygdala

The constant impact on your amygdala from many of our daily encounters. This feature triggers your fight or flight response, still active from 250,000 years ago. The amygdala is fine tuned for utility, not reality.

We still, in an instant, react with anger or fear, even though the situation may not require such reactions. More seriously, this often outside our awareness.

The amygdala protected us in the very old days, but we rarely encounter lions and tigers in our normal life today. We do though, sometimes feel threatened by a boss or co-worker, or make a bad mistake, or lose a client, or……. The ingredients have changed but the primal reaction still tries to help out.

  1. Generalisation

The way your brain selects small bits of all the data around us and inside us.

This second feature pushes you to unquestioningly accept too many generalisations, and from this it’s a natural slide into your biases and prejudices.

How do these two things affect our reality?

If unnoticed and ignored these basic brain functions become more fixed as real. Michelle who wanted your job (but in her reality is objective and accepting) may persistently seem to behave as your primal memory of a lion.  You reacted initially, then notice other ways she intrudes on your space and sides with others in the pack, so she is typecast by you as a threat. This attitude generalises into a mindset which gets the Drama Triangle underway.  Now you behave towards her negatively so often she begins to find you a threat and so even more evidence of her dangerous behaviour is built up. You move from being a threatened victim to a threat yourself.

Other variations can take the bias like, “ Young people do not know their place”, “ People who are all smiles are hiding something”,  and so on. These biases become mindsets which define your real perception of the next smiling or young person. Without you even doing it deliberately.

Changing your reality

When it comes to changing these responses, the difficulty is that you are so conditioned to believe that what you experience is reality. In fact, you only pay attention to a small part of what you experience and then generalise and construct the data from those small pieces of information.

So you have to ask yourself – is the world you see around you the real world, or an internal perceptual copy of that world generated by neural processes in your brain? Your thinking, beliefs, desires, and motivations can exert significant influence on basic perceptual processes.

Being a better leader means questioning your assumptions and expectations in every encounter. Is this reality, really? Check out your mindset and past beliefs. A tip: when you really know you’re right you probably aren’t.

What you see, hear, and smell is shaped by what you think. The way you normally think about your feelings and emotions simply doesn’t measure up with what neuroscience reveals about what your brain actually does and what’s really going on.

You might consider that even space and time are not necessarily elements of external reality. For example, consider the common experience of time slowing down when you are bored or speeding up when you are in love. And the daydream of being somewhere else that seems so real until you get yelled at for weaving out of your lane. Within this conception, only a certain part of reality, which you need for mastering life, is projected onto space and time.

Your mind is not merely an observer, which perceives reality as it is. Your mind actually changes and shapes your reality. If your mind is set, this obviously impacts on your leadership behaviour. Your biases are a frame of which you are often not even aware.

They are your default settings.

It is sobering to remember this when you are telling someone you are right, and they are wrong.

Read more about perception and reality in my latest leadership book, Looking Up Looking In,


Please share your discovery of a real situation you later found out to be wrong.