Are You Living in a Bubble? Perception Management for Expat Leaders in Central and Eastern Europe


When I am working on executive personal branding assignments with foreign leaders in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Romania, one of the greatest challenges we are often facing is the misalignment between the leader’s perception of self and the employees’ perception of the leader’s personality and executive style.

Expat managers land very often in Central and Eastern Europe after proving their skills on mandates executed in Western Europe, Asia or the United States. As such, they are used to a certain level of professional communications, emotional maturity, dialogue, transparency and conflict management that might not always be aligned with the reality and mentalities still active in Central Eastern Europe. Let’s not forget that, even though we are more than 30 years after the fall of communism in CEE, the systemic trauma enforced on those nations for more than half a century has deeply impacted the way people act and react at work, communicate with each other and position themselves towards leadership. Unless leaders are wise enough to spot these insidious emotional undercurrents and learn to navigate them, the gap between the leader’s perception of self and the employees’ perception of the leader’s personality and performance widens, with often dramatic consequences for the organization and the leader himself.

This is one of the reasons why I invite my executive clients to live in a state of permanent perception double-check. As a leader, you need to be alert to how the way people perceive you influences their engagement with the proposals you bring forward, the level of resistance to change you will face and, ultimately, the success of your leadership in these countries.

How can leaders engage in this kind of perception double-check? Here are a few pragmatic ideas that could prove useful for your work and future as well.

1.    Make a list of the TOP 10 qualities that you attach to your name

These qualities should reflect how you perceive yourself right now, at this moment in time, as an overall personality and in relation to your work, team and organization. Such qualities could include, for example, attributes like: generous, present, driven, energetic, abrupt, kind, conflict-avoiding, caring etc.

2.    Engage in your own private 360°

Choose 8 to 10 people across a wide range of roles in your company (friends and foes, positioned near and further away from you in the organization). Gently ask them to send you via email, SMS or other remote tools the first 10 attributes that come to their mind when thinking about you / saying your name. Encourage them to shoot from the hip (to write the first things that come to their mind without overthinking it) and to avoid self-censorship (to write down challenging qualities as well, not only positive ones).

3.    Compare and evaluate 

Collect the feedback received. Take a good, hard look at the level of alignment between your perception of self and the perception of your stakeholders. On a scale of 1, where the misalignment is massive / almost complete, to 10, where the alignment is perfect, where do you stand? Why? What is missing so you get closer to 10? Which attributes that your stakeholders associate with you surprised you the most? Which ones burned a bit and perhaps made you to stop and take a deep breath?

4.    Take action: reflect on what you can do to restore alignment

Go back to those spots on your comparison analysis where the misalignment is the most obvious. Why do you think this is the case? Reflect carefully, on your own or with your coach, on everything that you can do to close the gap. What are the first things you will engage in and by when? How do you know you are getting closer to narrowing your perception gap?

In my future posts I will continue writing and providing you with actionable advice on how to make your name glow in the dark with value and trustworthiness. In a time of polarization, global and local challenges and tremendous transformation, we need more emotionally mature, communication savvy inspiring leaders. Stay tuned, follow my blog on LinkedIn and let me know what you think. I am looking forward to your thoughts, inputs and reactions that you can also send me directly via email:

This blog post was first published on my LinkedIn Profile Account. 

I focus on strategic communications, emotional and systemic intelligence and personal and organization leadership. I help leaders and future leaders to develop their strategic communication skills, to build reputable personal brands and to boost their team and organizational leadership. I support individuals, teams and organizations through advisory, training, coaching and mentoring services.

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