Other’s Perceptions – Are You a Threat?

Often others’ perceptions of our actions are often more important that our intentions. One of the questions to ask yourself is: “Does this person see me or my actions as a threat?”


Years ago, I was a young manager at a large, non-profit organization. About two years into my job, I started noticing an unusual amount of resistance from one of the vice presidents. It got to the point where it seemed as if any decision I made would result in his expending a great amount of effort to get it overturned. It got to the point where it almost seemed silly. I couldn’t figure out what was going on.

Eventually, I spoke with a much wiser retiree who was familiar with the organizational structure. He explained that my problem was that the VP felt extremely threatened by me. This came as quite a shock to me because I had never even considered that this was a possibility. However, as I really looked at the situation, it made a lot more sense.

Over the past 5 years, the VP hadn’t really accomplished much. In fact, most of the large projects he had been put in charge of either never got off the ground or were failing miserably. Some of his projects had gone so far over budget that the CFO was very concerned about giving him any more leeway. I had come in and had a string of successes with some larger and larger scale projects. Many of these projects saved a tremendous amount of money. The CFO liked what I was doing, so it was very easy to get funding for pretty much anything I felt like we needed to do.

I’d like to say that understanding the VP’s motivations helped me to succeed in that environment, but I can’t. By the time I realized what was going on, I had decided that, if I wanted to control my career, I needed to be in business for myself. I’m very glad I moved on, but I regret that I didn’t learn early on how I was being perceived by this individual.

Originally published September 6, 2007.


  1. Mark Shead says

    @Catherine – Good question. I think just being aware of the situation would have helped a lot. One thing I would have done is actively tried to get his buy in on some of the things I was trying to do. As it was I reported up through a different chain of command, so I didn’t really involve the VP in what I was doing. On the soft side of things I might have even tried to steer him toward some of the things I was trying to accomplish in a way that would make him think that it was his idea.

  2. says

    This is a good post about something that underpins politics in any organization. I’ve been deemed a threat and found myself looking for an out because the politics got too terrible.

    It is worth reminding myself on a regular basis, in fact just recently this came to the forefront. Now it is making a project difficult to complete.

    Does it change who I am? No. Does it diminish what I offer to an organization? No. Does it alter who I might work with and why? Yes.

  3. says

    Two great books, the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and How to Win Friends and Influence People.

    I had this same problem a few years before I became an entrepreneur. Because I was such a new and bright star my boss thought that I’d have his job. The above two books opened me up to change my dealings with people, so that I could help them reach their goals and in turn reach mine. The Win Win as it’s called. This propelled me up the ladder and they stopped seeing me as a threat.

  4. says

    I think that if you doing things the way you think is right (in the case of the author, success in various projects) then there is no need to disturb yourself with thoughts as whether someone likes you or not… it will always be someone who don’t like you.

    “If I care to listen to every criticism, let alone act on them, then this shop may as well be closed for all other businesses. I have learned to do my best, and if the end result is good then I do not care for any criticism, but if the end result is not good, then even the praise of ten angels would not make the difference.”

    Abraham Lincoln

  5. Ms T says

    Marko is absolutely right. There’s no pleasing everyone. And trying to please everyone will only cause you to lose track of the original goal.

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