The Power of Perceptions

Kung Fu Panda, Confirmation Bias, The Dean Scream, & Negative Reinforcing Loops

“The secret ingredient of my secret ingredient soup is…nothing! There is no secret ingredient. To make something special you just have to believe it’s special.”

explained Mr. Ping, mentor to Kung Fu Panda in the eponymous movie.  If we believe something is true, we look for data that confirms our belief, also known as confirmation bias.  If we believe washing our car makes it rain, we will take special notice, and angry umbrage, at those times when we wash our car and it rains.  And we will likely not take notice of those times it doesn’t rain on our clean car.  Our expectation causes us to look for reinforcing data.  Thus the power of expectations in the workplace.  If we believe an employee is a good employee, we will be more likely to notice actions and behaviors that reinforce our belief.  In the same way, if we believe an employee to be a poor employee we will be more likely to notice negative behaviors.

On January 19, 2004 in Iowa Howard Dean works the crowd at one of his rallies like a charismatic statesman, inspiring his followers with plans for the future, laying out his path to the white house.  At the end of his speech he let out an impassioned scream.  The crowd barely notices, but the press takes hold of it.  The sound bite is created.  The narrative is set to go along with the sound bite.  “Howard Dean’s temperament is an issue.”  With each replay the perception is reinforced.  Less than one month later he drops out of the race after leading the field just weeks prior.  The same thing happens in the stock market, with sports teams, in social groups, and in the workplace.  All it takes in the workplace is an employee or a manager to plant a seed of poor performance.  “Did you notice John’s performance has been slipping?”  The paradigm is set.  Suddenly John’s co-workers start noticing issues.  John feels the pressure, perhaps gets defensive, perhaps withdraws.  His performance suffers.  Once initiated, negative reinforcing loops take on a life of their own, and become extremely difficult to undo; especially in a highly-competitive and/or toxic workplace.

Perceptions are inevitable–and their impact is powerful.  Thus managing perceptions in the workplace is a critical skill.  As leaders we must ensure we’re creating a positive work environment by managing perceptions.

  1. Reflect on your own perceptions and biases that you have for your team members. Pay close attention to those with personalities and styles that are different than your own.  You’re more likely to view them as poor performers, when they may just have a different approach.
  2. Look for the best in others. When viewing other’s behavior, make sure you’re focusing on the positive.  Look for positive behaviors to recognize and reinforce in public.  Help set positive reinforcing loops.
  3. Share negative feedback in private. In general, always praise in public and criticize in private.  This allows for developmental feedback while still effectively managing perceptions in the workpl
  4. Look out for negative behaviors in others. Ensure you don’t have employees who are sabotaging the efforts of others through bad-mouthing and negativity.  Other employees can foster negative perceptions just as leaders can.

Earl Nightingale once said “Our environment, the world in which we live and work, is a mirror of our attitudes and expectations.”  Let’s make sure they’re positive ones.

Post Courtesy of: Jeff Mikula, President & Lead Consultant, New Dimensions in Learning

LWC Recognizes Graduates and Honors Food Bank

On May 26, 2016, Leadership Washington County (LWC) honored the 17 community and business leaders who have successfully completed the nine-month long program with a graduation reception held at The Meadows Casino, racetrack and hotel in Washington, PA. Program participants range from leaders in health care, to banking, to individual business owners and to everything in between. Despite their differences in profession, they all completed the program with similar goals in mind: to grow professionally, as well as personally, and to positively impact Washington County.

2016 LWC class

The group wasted little time on the later goal as plans began last October to raise money and pounds of food for The Greater Washington County Food Bank as part of the class project. Over the last eight months, three LWC teams planned various fundraisers and food drives across the county while working in a friendly competition with their other classmates. In total, the participants of LWC donated $25,512 and 22,146 pounds of food to the Food Bank. At the graduation reception, the group held a presentation ceremony with Heidi Hoffman, Greater Washington County Food Bank’s Donor Relations Coordinator. Ms. Hoffman remarked, “The work and dedication this group of community leaders has shown is outstanding. They have gone above expectations and are a true testament to the good work that is happening in Washington County. We are grateful for this support”. In addition to the monetary, food and goods donated to the Food Bank, the group also spent a day at the organization volunteering last month.

The 2016 graduates of Leadership Washington County will walk away with more than a greater understanding of leadership, but with knowledge of our community and a network to rely on for years to come. Over 75% of the program’s graduates go on to serve on a local not-for-profit board and volunteer with various organizations. 2015-2016 class participant, Bob Rak Director of Finance for the Pittsburgh Opera said, “I joined the 2016 class of Leadership Washington County to be able to expand my network of colleagues and contacts in our community and I found that and a lot more.  I found an inspiring group of hardworking professionals that care about their community, grew my skills as a leader and communicator through thought provoking training, and learned of the challenges, opportunities and great work that’s being done in the community that I’ve called home for 17 years.  This experience, these connections and this knowledge will be an invaluable asset to me as I continually work hard to be a fully engaged member of my community.”

Graduation picuture 2016

Leadership Washington County is a nonprofit organization led by Jeff Fondelier, LWC Board President/Vice President of Operations at Community Action Southwest and Katie Unger-Chipps, LWC Executive Director/past Leadership Washington County Participant. It was formed in 1998 as a cooperative effort between the United Way of Washington County and the Washington County Chamber of Commerce. More than 230 leaders have graduated from the program since its creation. Applications for the 2016-2017 class are currently being accepted at


Welcome to Leadership Washington County!

My name is Brett Clancy. I am a local attorney. I currently serve as Vice President on Leadership Washington County’s Board of Directors. On behalf of Leadership Washington County and its Board of Directors, I would like to welcome you to our new website/blog. In the coming weeks you will be hearing from some of the other board members about what leadership means to them. Thereafter, we will be publishing blog posts from some of our partners in the community. We are excited about the direction our organization is taking. We have a board that is passionate about our mission, an Executive Director with the ability to carry out our plan and, more importantly, a community deserving of what we hope to achieve.

In creating this blog we hope to give you some insight into what leadership means to those behind the scenes and those who have successfully completed the program.

Be inspired.

My inspiration is simple. Family. In my own mind I have always been a leader. At every stage in my life. As will happen in life, sometimes we realize we really did not know what inspiration does until we become parents. That is what happened to me. I have two sons. I have a vision for the kind of men I want them to grow up to be. Virtually every decision I make with respect to my family, my profession and my involvement in the community. My boys will look to me for guidance as they grow into the men they will become. I choose to lead by example.

Be involved.

I have acted on my inspiration by getting involved in those organizations about which I am passionate and in which I truly believe. Since coming to this community, I have served on two different boards (Leadership Washington County and Mental Health Association of Washington County) and I am very active in the Washington County Bar Association. I take my duty to my community very seriously. The vision I have for my boys depends on it.

Be a leader.

I read somewhere the job of a leader is to engage hearts and minds, equip with essential skills, execute with discipline and energize for greatness. Virtually every decision I make with respect to my family, my profession and my involvement in the community is derived from my inspiration, my desire to engage the hearts and minds of my boys, equip them with essential skills and energize them for greatness. My boys will look to me for guidance as they grow into the men they will become. Through my inspiration and through my involvement, I choose to lead by example.

Leadership in a family, in a community or in the work place cannot be overstated. The foundation of any of these can only be as strong as its leaders. Our mission is simple: To educate and inspire leaders through synergistic partnerships and civic management, promoting a healthy and prosperous Washington County community. Our vision consists of cultivating bold and accountable leadership, serving as a robust resource and fostering economic growth and sustainability throughout the community. Over the years we have done just that and moving forward, with the wealth of quality individuals living and working in Washington County we are confident we can continue to do so for many years to come.

Post Courtesy of: Brett Clancy, Esq.