Of course job performance is important - you wouldn't be where you are if your work lacked attention, quality and merit. Or if you did not plan, prepare and verify the facts and figures to create those impressive results. That you must take care in your work for the best possible result is a given.
But what about your image? Is it as important? How much time and energy do you devote to packaging the fabulous product that is you?
Over the next three months, we will discuss some image topics across three different groups - People of Potential (POP), Direct Managers and Executives. The entry points are different, of course, with perhaps the greatest variance in the People of Potential group. You may be an individual contributor or in a position of leadership, as lucky for us all, potential springs eternal.
For purposes of our discussion, the POP group shall be hereby defined as individuals who exhibit either functional excellence, desire to grow, or both. They shall be assumed strong performers and potential leaders who are enthusiastic about their own development, but perhaps as of yet, untapped. They are the diamonds in the rough!
There are few among us who start their trek on a high wrung of the corporate ladder, naturally commanding poise, polish and prowess. There are far more of us who muddle through for a bit, making mistakes and learning from them until we either find our life calling or an opportunity to just do a really good job at something, hoping upon hope that someone notices.
And many of us wait to be noticed for a long time. Even if we love what we do, we are human and cherish positive feedback, attention and reward for our accomplishments... which we believe we will eventually, inevitably receive, if we just work hard... and keep working hard. We follow the old adages, keeping our heads down and our noses to the grindstone. But, how many people can identify us by the backs of our heads?
The reality is that you are the only one who really knows how much you do. Your supervisor or manager may have a good idea of your skillsets and value, but the out in the great beyond, what do they know? Not enough. You need them all to know more. You need them to see you and your work, to think of you when they think of high performers. And... you need them all to know that you are up for more.
You need to POP! But how? Brand and presence.
Think of items you purchase regularly. Are there particular brands that you always buy? Why do you buy them? Because they are familiar, trusted, understood and consistent. They are well known and have a certain look or feel that trademarks them.
You do have a brand already - we all do. What does your current brand say about you? Does it accurately represent who you are, how much you do and what you know? Does your brand diminish or add to your credibility? Or, is it camouflage?
In any event, don't despair. You can start intentionally assessing, building or rebuilding your brand at any time. There are more ways than we have time to discuss in this article, but there is a starting point that can work for anyone in the short-term. In fact, you can start tomorrow... just by pruning and trimming a little differently.
Your outer image is not insignificant and should not be disregarded as frivolous, though you've probably been told that a time or two along the way. Looking well composed does nothing to diminish your merits, but adds tremendous value in some circumstances. You never know when those circumstances will occur, so why not look the part every day, in case today is the day?
First and most basic - neatness is a positive brand attribute and an absolute must for any role in any place of business. It speaks volumes about how you care for not only yourself, but your work. Some environments have preferences regarding hair, nails, facial hair, etc. which of course should be followed, as they are often in place for safety reasons. If there are no guidelines in place, go with the cleanest, most orderly look possible. Grooming, cosmetics and nail colors should complement natural features, and draw no attention of their own.
Next, you say a lot with your clothing choices. What is your style telling people about your brand? Do your garments declare professionalism with good fit and quality? Does your outfits bolster your confidence by making you feel poised and ready for anything?
You don't have to spend a lot of money on clothing to accomplish a brand that conveys self-assurance. A simple change of perspective may help: Quality and fit of a couple of foundational items that you wear often is better than cycling through a large quantity of clothing that, while it may offer a variety, does not make you feel prepared to unexpectedly meet with someone you admire or find influential. You can go through pieces you already own and pick the ones with the best fit (no bumps, bulges or gaping between buttons) and most adaptability (can be worn in several combinations without looking exactly the same -like black pants or a white button-down shirt) and begin with those as your basics. Wear them often and with other accessories that you like and fit your personality.
Overall, your style of dress should complement your place of business. Let's say that leadership unexpectedly invites you into a meeting with company stakeholders or clients having not previously seen you that day. Would they feel confident that you would arrive clad in a way that positively represents the company's professionalism and values? Would they trust that you would appear with everything covered that should be, donning work-wear vs. evening or weekend wear? If you think not, that is your cue to take action.
Dress like you could get called into that meeting every day. Because you could.
Presence is no small subject. There are entire books, and not just a few, devoted to defining and fostering it. I was told at a young age, as a POP, having just interviewed for a leadership position that I did not get, that I just did not have leadership presence. But when I asked what that meant, the hiring manager could not articulate a definition. For me, at that time, it was mostly a lack of understanding of how to own my own skills and potential. For our purpose today, I will define it as an intensely individual composure, born of the confidence to be in the moment, wherever you are, in whatever you are doing, and to engage at your highest potential.
To do it well, have presence, that is, confidence is perhaps the most fundamental. Confidence comes from knowing yourself - not only knowing, but owning your strengths and weaknesses, feeling fear and choosing to act in the moment in spite of it. There are no detailed blueprints for gaining confidence and crafting presence. It is far from immediate, and for some takes a very long time indeed. But defining what you want, and then being intentional about pursuing it is a practical short-term step.
Earlier, we talked about how many of us keep our heads down and expend more and more of our energy on perfecting our work in hopes of someone noticing. Now, let's take some small percentage of that energy and direct it into sharing just one accomplishment, or one great insight or idea you have with someone else whom you admire outside of your direct supervisor. Just drop by and have a light conversation with that person and bring it up if the opportunity arises.
This may feel forced - it is hard for many of us to own an accomplishment... it somehow feels boastful. But I assure you, others do it and do it well, and what's more, it works. Share, but do it in a way that feels right to you... in a way that fits your personality. It may take some practice, but you can start tomorrow.
Go ahead - look at your calendar for tomorrow. What's on it?
If you do not have a meeting with this person with whom you want to chat, create one. Even if it only lasts 5 minutes and the appointment is just on your calendar and that target audience is oblivious to its existence. Remember, your goal is to invite him/her to not only see the value of the work you are doing, but to see YOU... in person, carrying your ideas, your personality, your intention to engage. They will all be on display.
For any other meeting or event in your workday, you would prepare, right? Do the same here. Think about your intention and any topics that would be likely to come up in your staged conversation that are relatable to the news or ideas you wish to share. Play out a couple of them.
Of course, conversations are dynamic and have an infinite number of variables and outcomes, so don't over-plan. Boil it down to a couple of succinct sentences, in your voice, that you can naturally deliver if and when the opportunity presents itself. And be ready!
No doubt that your rock has been a strong, protective armor, but you need to push it aside and crawl out from beneath into the sunshine! This exposure may make you feel naked and vulnerable, squinting in the heat and light. If it is uncomfortable and unnerving then you are probably doing it right!
You may be sweaty palmed, shaky voiced and nervous. But wait. What are you afraid of, really? You know what you want - and are acting with intention. You know what you want to say. You are dressed well and feeling confident. This is your moment - just one of many more you will make for yourself by getting out there. Time to really POP!
Misty Smalley is an HR leader and writer who actively pursues interests in executive coaching, organizational development and training design. A life-long learner, she joyfully strives to help others to explore the meaning in their own journeys, then to express it authentically.