The Misunderstood Impact of Misaligned Perceptions of Your Abilities With Your Boss

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on 02-07-23

The Misunderstood Impact of Misaligned Perceptions of Your Abilities With Your Boss

…or, why it’s not about your risk of getting fired. 


You might hear from your boss “you’re great, a rockstar, we have every faith in you, you’re going to go far, but…you could improve in these ways…”

There are several reasons that this conversation matters. The most obvious is that this feedback reflects dimensions that you should improve, and getting that feedback and even help in changing can be really helpful. But just as often there is a difference in perception of your abilities that this conversation can expose. The boss thinks you have a gap or weakness when you might think you have a strength (or at least not a weakness).

When this occurs, most people focus on the wrong reason that this matters, and that hurts their ability to improve in the right way. Their focus is on whether those perceptions might hurt their promotion options, or even result in their unplanned departure. However, those reasons not only fuel performance-limiting anxiety, but if you have that conversation with your boss they will not only say “didn’t you hear how much we think of you?” But they will likely add a new weakness of self-centered career focus to this list. It also focuses your attention on a feedback loop (getting promoted) that is not high-frequency enough to help your improvement. 

Some advice is to not worry about those gaps in perception; just be yourself and it will take care of itself. Sometimes this is very valid. 

But there is another reason, a more pragmatic reason, that you should take these gaps in perception seriously, which also helps point towards different strategies for improvement. These perception gaps reduce the degrees of freedom that your boss(es) provide for you, and these limitations can hurt both your ability to be effective and your ability to improve. 

As a simple example, let’s imagine you are a baseball pitcher. Your manager loves your abilities, but perceives you as less effective in a high pressure situation. As a result, while you think you could get yourself out of trouble, every time you find yourself in that situation, your manager pulls you and you lose the opportunity to prove yourself. 

In a more traditional work setting, this can show up in these examples: 

  • I trust you to negotiate the deal, but make sure I can review it before we sign anything. 
  • Let’s have a pre-meeting to align before you present. 
  • You should focus on this, and let me worry about this other area. 
  • I’m going to ask so-and-so to come work with you and your team on this project. 
  • This is an important sales meeting, so let me take the lead. 

You may think as the recipient that these are bad behaviors on the part of the boss, but it’s not so simple. If these are tactics or decisions to mitigate the risk of the perceived gaps in your abilities, then they are smart and prudent tactics both for the sake of the organization and you. 

However, just as with the baseball pitcher, most of these tactics limit your degrees of freedom that might help you change that perception, or grow out of the real gap. Simply asking for a chance to prove yourself isn’t a reliable strategy, because either you are denied (perhaps in a subtle and non-obvious way) or given too small of a chance to actually change perception. 

Instead, you will have to be creative in building effective opportunities to demonstrate yourself, armed with this alternative reason why changing that perception matters. But first, you need to be aware that the perception gap exists. 


The above post highlights one of many reasons that I’ve added to my Collaborative Coaching work. This process is part advising, part thought-partner, and part coach. I have added a 360 degree leadership feedback process, in partnership with Stewart Leadership who have developed these methods for decades, to enable those I collaborate with to have new insights into their leadership. Together, we build a plan for improvement.