Image Ability | Blog: Unveiling Your Professional Image: The Intersection of Presence, Leadership, and Individuality
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This is Part 2 in the discussion about the envelope of performance, the connection between our presence, leadership style and what makes us unique – both human beings and professionals.

The fun and challenge of image work come from aligning the inner and outer characteristics. It is a privilege to meet and work with people who put a bit of time and structure into figuring out others’ perceptions about themselves – especially when they are on the cusp of change. Creating a safe and challenging place for conversations around how I can achieve ‘what you see is what you get’ is also a privilege.   

In an age where perception rules the roost and relevance is the only real door opener, image work is no mean feat. So how does one distinguish what is genuine and what is not? 

Let’s revisit some of the basics of aligning perception with reality:

The way we project ourselves to others is made up of six components:

  1. Appearance: the way we dress, groom ourselves, and present our physical appearance.
  2. Body language: body language, such as posture, gestures, and facial expressions, can convey much about our personality and mood.
  3. Communication style: how we speak, our voice and words can also shape the image we project to others.
  4. Behaviour: actions and behaviour in social situations can influence how others perceive us.
  5. Reputation: reputation is built on our past actions and can precede us in social situations.
  6. Social media presence: social media profiles and online activity can also contribute to the image we project to others.

Of these, that ‘first look’ tends to be determined hugely by the clothes we wear. There is alchemy in how they appear, how there are appropriate for the occasion and a host of other subtle factors that lead to that first impression.

In the context of my previous blog on the ‘envelope of performance’, it’s important to get that first impression right. How often have you met somebody where the ‘packaging’ – their clothes, makeup, or hair – has misled you on further acquaintance? It’s not just about money: for situations that matter, it is important to (a) understand your personal envelope and (b) take care to manage (or enhance) it in a credible manner.

The above list of six items is formidable and, in many senses, our appearance is the easiest to deal with, but it is beguiling to think that it’s just a matter of buying an expensive dress or a fancy tiara!

If you read magazines or look on the web, you will discover a multitude of guides to what is generally called ‘fashion’.

A personal image is something else, and after considerable research and experience, we have developed taxonomies which go well beyond fashion. Being Classic, Feminine, Natural or Dramatic is not just about your wardrobe. In the ’70s, market research companies were all the bees’ knees claiming (and persuading brands) that what people responded in their questionnaires or in focus groups was the only reality. However, brands were having first-hand experience with what respondents were saying and, more importantly, not saying to market research. How people were behaving was something very different. And huge marketing budgets were being wasted – big time! That was until Big Data started to come onto the scene – and to stay.

So, it is absolutely fine if you wish to dress like Emily in Paris; however, we help you connect your aspirations with your relevance and goals, i.e. within your ‘envelope of performance’. You cannot be objective about yourself . . ever! That’s why there is such a burgeoning industry in body tweaking to feed the media’s feast of feminine body image.

As humans, we think/wish/dream of being Smart, Classic, Chic or Trendy – and our appearance can communicate a bit of everything – or, on the contrary, none of these! But there is nothing wrong with that: with a bit of exploration and work, we learn how to own our definitions – and not those imposed by media.

When it comes to professional context for today’s empowered women to re-design their image, one also needs to consider personal levels of connection and influence; and for those leading teams to communicate credibility in ever-larger spheres and specialist domain(s), which may require different ‘layers’ of image. The good thing is that these skills are transferrable, i.e. we can all learn to re-design and edit our ‘outer image’ to connect with our inner characteristics.

This is a vital skill, especially in a time of transition or change, when we need every bit of our image to be secure and serve our aims and objectives. In short, learning how to use our image as an asset enables us to meet our goals in a planned and meaningful way. 

I have profiled my image and my ‘covers’ in various stages of my own development:  throughout, I observe that my choices have been a good measure of my attitude towards both work and play. The results are congruent with my personality and have been within my personal envelope of performance for ~90% of the time. So, I need to make sure I flex the elastic of the remaining 10% with regular experimentation – even without a shop in sight!

Aside: I am regularly invited to speak in and dine in a variety of surroundings, ranging from sublime and stupendous to non-descript – and I love this cacophony of experiences. To get myself ready, I have learned not to hover too much around what to wear but let it come to me by visualising the setting, the common ground I have with the people I meet, and why they will be there rather than myself!. It happens subconsciously. And has never failed me (so far, at least!), but I admit that what works for me and other women may not work for others. But one thing I know and see in the progress others are making: like any other habit, this can be learned, too. Because it works as most other (good) learning does in life: if you align your choice of behaviour, communication, and appearance for relevance to both your audience and how you feel about the experience on a good day, then you are communicating you! The type of event doesn’t matter; your preparation and what you feel about the experience ahead do. So keep it real and simple!

Taste development is like leadership style, and although to some it may seem like putting the cart in front of the horse sometimes, they deliver when they are, in effect, in tandem. You have this tandem in you; it is in your envelope of performance.

The key is to work within – or just beyond your envelope of performance. So, how is that possible, it seems quite far away from where I am now, I hear you ask.

Nowhere is this more evident than when working with clients to help them through some concern or another. There are, of course, the Marie Kondo minimalists in terms of thinking, decision-making and, unsurprisingly, sometimes ‘what to wear’. But most people seem to be natural hoarders – of ideas, experiences and ‘covers’! This is good, and it is also what makes it so much more interesting and exciting. Experimentation impacts so many levels: it trickles down beyond what the eye can see and into how we make decisions, generate new ideas and make them useful, and connect with others.

So why not play with your ‘covers’ more than you have done so of late to develop your critical thinking and creative problem-solving? Try more, buy less, and find the needle (i.e. what you are really all about!) in the haystack – but you must do that before shopping as a last resort!

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