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I do a lot of executive coaching, and when I ask clients to tell me about their core strengths, they’ll say things like, “I have solid communication skills.” Or, “My team enjoys working with me.”

I’ll then ask their direct reports the same question about my clients. Their responses are usually a stark contrast to what the leader has told me. I’m often left wondering if we’re talking about the same person here!

Here’s the reality. No matter how good (or bad) someone is, all that matters is perception.

That’s right; perception is the one factor that holds leaders back. You could be the most persuasive communicator on the planet, and if no one else seems to think so, then nothing else matters.

You may be thinking, “How the heck am I supposed to know how other people perceive me? I’m not a mind reader Roberta!” You’re right. You’re not. However, there are ways to find this out quickly.

If you want to know how others perceive you, then I’d suggest asking a neutral third party to find out for you.

When I do this on behalf of my clients, I usually ask their direct reports and stakeholders to tell me what this person does well. I follow this up with a question about what may be holding them back. I listen attentively to their responses and take copious notes.

It usually doesn’t take long for patterns to emerge. I’ll roll up the information gathered and will then meet with my clients to provide them with feedback regarding how others perceive their strengths and areas of needed development. With this information in hand, we then put a plan in place to change perception.

Sounds easy, right? Not so fast. The next step is asking for help.

This requires asking stakeholders to provide feedback along the way. By doing so, clients will know in real-time if they’re moving the perception needle in the right direction.

I’m not going to kid you. It takes time and effort to change perception. It also takes a strong leader, who is willing to be open to the possibility that he or she may not be as great at certain things as they think. We’ll work together to shift one or two things forward a mile, rather than 10 things ahead an inch.

I’m a huge fan of this process (also known as Stakeholder Centered Coaching) for several reasons.

First, the client gets to work on things that really matter — those items that will be a real game-changer in terms of their career. Clients also aren’t wasting time and resources making small, insignificant changes that they mistakenly believe are the reason they are not progressing.

The next time you receive an unsolicited comment from someone that sends you for a loop, take a moment and pause. Think about if this person has a motive for saying this or if you do have a perception problem. If it’s the former, ignore this. If it’s the latter, take action.