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Creating a Professional Image

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Last month I wrote about the many ways leaders behave that turn people off from following them or believing in them. Listed in last month's article were the behavior segments, along with examples of what doesn't work and what does.

As I pondered on a topic to write about this month, a recent conversation came to me that I had with a good friend and colleague. We were talking about changing one's image after making serious mistakes in approaches and behaviors with employees. I thought to myself at the time that I've heard about this too many times in my career and, most of the time, the folks who have made behavioral mistakes do not get out alive from that situation and most have been forced out or fired, which is an easy way (and many times wasteful) to get rid of the "bad" apple, so to speak. Lots of organizations do not want to spend the time on people to get them on the right track and the results can be devastating to them because, at that time, these leaders were not given the tools to work with. Just think of the lost time and money it takes to bring another leader on line and if the models don't change, there is a good chance for repeated patterns of failure.

I'm not trying to make excuses for managers or leaders. In my experience, I have found that most of these leaders or managers had to figure things out as they went (lack of good preparation and training), followed and admired certain models of leadership behaviors, and did not have good resources or tools to work with. A good feedback tool to start the process is the best way for folks to know about how others think and feel about them as leaders or managers. Mentoring programs work for leaders as do outside resource coaches, however, most organizations have only a bi-annual or an annual process for feedback, such as performance reviews, goal-setting sessions, etc. Many times when we get a leader to coach they have already been the victim of bad habits and behaviors we have to correct much of which could have been avoided by good systematic coaching in the beginning and/or a solid mentor program.

So how do we perfect our image as leaders? That is a question that I'd like to try to answer for all of us who are in constant improvement mode. Here's what I've seem that works for most people who really want to create a better image of professionalism and integrity:

  • 360 Time: The first thing to do is to administer a 360 Leadership Assessment, asking your leader/s, peers, and staff of employees to rate your skills and behaviors. You will quickly find out what it is that needs to be worked on or changed.
  • Plan actions built upon the results: After reading the results, come up with an action plan that will target the behaviors that are priorities to work on. Having a coach, a mentor, a champion who can encourage you to growth or a trusted friend to help you can be very helpful, especially if that person is straight with you and will tell you the truth, no matter what.
  • Get others involved in your change and success: Let your bosses and your people know what you want to do to become better leader (or person to work with) and you will see that by doing that people will give you room to try and even help, especially if there's sincerity in wanting to change.
  • Start small: Small successes breed more success and people will notice when you execute your plan to better your image. Not everyone will be forgiving though and you need to be able to get by that because we cannot please everyone all the time. In time people will notice and then start to trust and feel comfortable with your behaviors.
  • Check in on success: Ask people how you are doing periodically. This gives the people you lead and work with a chance to give you positive feedback and praise for your good work. Some leaders are embarrassed by praise, however, it's a good indicator of how you are doing. Learn to accept complements, because they will come with the renewed behaviors.
  • Continuously check: Reevaluate at least once a year by revisiting the feedback process, whether it's a quick version or another 360 Assessment. This keeps the leader on track and ready to tackle other improvements if needed.

The above ways of improving our image is time tested and has worked throughout these last 20 years of being in the people business. Everyone can improve their image, even if they are not in a leadership position. Perhaps a 360 Assessment isn't available to everyone. There are other ways to improve our image and other resources that can help. Simply creating a questionnaire for others to complete when we ask them to assess us, or having a meeting to talk one-on-one with someone you trust to give you good feedback about your behaviors and then listen without being defensive can help you to decide what needs to change. If we are up for changing our image, the above solutions can work wonders AND it will not take long if you stick to the plan to improve and make an effort to be aware of how your behavior affects others.

2012 is a great time to start creating our better image and can work into our New Year's resolution. Thanks for reading this article. Please let me know if you have other image ideas that have worked for you or others. We appreciate your feedback!!

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Lorraine Twombly
Priority Learning



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