Person Perception in Leadership and Entrepreneurship

What is person perception? Kendra Cherry, author of Person Perception: How We Form Impressions of Other People, defines it the different mental processes that we use to form those impressions.  At a glance, you begin to determine who and what a person is like, without little or no good information on which to form that opinion.

As a leader, this is a dangerous practice. The most slovenly of dressers can be a superior computer programmer. The shy, quiet mouse in the corner can stand up in front of the room and captivate potential clients with her strong presentation skills. It is imperative that you do not judge your team members as you would a book by its cover, but instead get to know him or her as an individual by taking the team to read the contents.

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Key Factors in People Perception

Factors that influence first impressions and person perceptions are such things as:

  • Physical cues, such as how someone dresses. A business suit carries the impression of work in a formal setting.
  • Role, such as their job.  You may expect a bus driver to act a certain way, and until the person you are observing does something to the contrary, you assume their behaviors will be consistent with what you expect from a bus driver.
  • Salience, or the obvious first. The more noticeable the factor is, the more likely we are to focus on it, and not look into the background for more information.
  • Social norms.  As characteristics become known, we sort people into different classes, based on those factors found common in that group.  It can be as simple as age and gender, and social categorization often happens automatically with little thought.

The contents of a team member’s work practices, home life and free time can provide great insight as to what motivates the individual, what their goals are, and what strengths or weaknesses are present.  Those are the background nuggets of information needed by a leader to avoid person perception. Incorrect assessment of an individual can lead to misunderstandings and misuse of skill sets that can better your organization.

It is human nature to make mental shortcuts, to begin to stereotype and begin to assume information based on already acquired information. Take care and time to avoid doing so. Ask questions of those you work with and observe behaviors beyond work practices and quality of work produced.

In addition to avoiding problems, there are great benefits to increased interaction. The team member feels like a valued contributor, is more likely to open and honest about ideas and wants, and will reciprocate. Remember, they have a perception of you as well. Do you want to be thought of as a stereotypical boss or a great, caring leader that mentors and empowers his or her staff? Correct your perceptions and you correct theirs as well.


People perception in leadership and as an entrepreneur is vitally important to understand. If you'd like to know more about person perception and entrepreneurship return to our entrepreneur hub by clicking here.

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