Perception is a Funny Thing

Karin Lindner, Founder, Karico Performance Solutions

I recently spoke with a young VP (son of the owner) of a manufacturing facility in Mississauga (Ontario). At one point during our conversation he said, "Karin, I honestly think that most of my workers are stupid. Some people have "it" and some people don't. Most of the ideas we get from the workers (which are not many), I find to be stupid ideas."

"Seriously how creative can a guy on the assembly line really be?” he stated. “They want to spend the minimum time in the plant and they want to get the most possible pay. That's it."

"How many managers and supervisors do you know who make a sincere effort to bring out the best in their people?” I asked him. “I don't think people are stupid. They need guidance, leadership, and support on how to become better at what they do and how to become better individuals. I have met more open-minded people on the production floor who willingly adapt to change, than I have met in managerial positions. What actions do you take to address this issue?"

He couldn't really answer my questions but if he thinks that his workers are stupid, I wonder what his workers think of him.

There is a difference between dumb and stupid. Dumb is ignorance – which can be corrected through education and training. Stupidity is a lack of intelligence, understanding, reason, or wit.

I cannot imagine how motivated his workforce is. What is the quality rating in this company? What's their health and safety record? How competitive can this company be in this fast paced and global market? Can it really be that people like this lead organizations?

Does he really think his company will continue to grow if he does not have his people on board? Bosses who think that they're superior and treat their employees as second class citizens have a lot to learn about leadership.

I certainly don't think that this VP is a bad person. He is a nice guy, he just doesn't know any better, and sadly, he is one of many. I think that unconsciously he may be looking for assistance, but you can only help someone who has an open mind and is ready and willing to accept some advice.

I have a simple philosophy. If you have a problem in your business, you have to first acknowledge that you have a problem. If you don't acknowledge that you have a problem, this is a real problem. Most of the time we are not aware of our (re)actions and the way we think and speak. How can we change something that we are not aware of?   

Unfortunately, in many cases there is a huge disconnect between the management team and the workforce. Both have challenges to deal with but there is no shared reality.

Ignorance is bliss when you don't understand each other's worlds, but this is the biggest obstacle in getting to the next level. Lack of communication, information, dignity and respect make the worker appear stupid but in reality it may simply be his/her unwillingness to help the company succeed because he/she is not emotionally connected to the business.

Why would the workforce want to use their brain if their input is not appreciated in the first place? It is a vicious circle. If you think your workers are stupid, then that's what you will get.

For those of you who know me, you know that I always try to find the positive in every challenge. Have you ever thought that STUPID could also stand for Smart Talented Unique People In Demand? It is always a question if and how you label people and the perspective you have.

I know many managers who think, look, and talk down to their individual contributors. They think their position of power has earned them the right to do so. Many leaders seem to miss the critical leadership skills of respecting people, increasing their self-worth, and encouraging them to add value to the business.

Letting go of the "command and control mindset" takes courage and trust, but it is essential if you want your people to rise to the challenge and learn to suggest great ideas. Most people learn by doing, so why not expand the mindset of your people from generating ideas to implementing their own ideas?

To be a successful leader it helps to keep four things in mind:

  • Believe that your people want to help you and your organization to succeed.
  • Choose your words wisely – they can either make or break a person.
  • Focus on what they do right instead of putting them down.
  • Each day think how you can help the individuals on your team to get better and better and better.

What is your perception of your workforce? Is there room for improvement? Do you lift them up or tear them down? In the words of John C. Maxwell: "To see how the leader is doing, look at the people."

Karin Lindner is the founder of Karico Performance Solutions., a company specializing in employee engagement and motivation in the manufacturing sector. Besides writing a book entitled "How Can We Make Manufacturing Sexy?", Lindner is in the process of creating a Youth Award to encourage high school students to come up with new ways and ideas to make manufacturing in North America more attractive. For more information, she can be reached at