3 Keys to Overcome the Perils of “Image Management”

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Originally posted March 20, 2012

When you face an important leadership decision, your first instinct is to do what’s best for your team, your organization or your constituency.

But your second instinct might be less noble. It’s the temptation to use the opportunity to manage your image, rather than managing the decision.

Here are the warning signs. When faced with an important decision, be careful when you begin to say to yourself,

“I need people to see me as-

  • Decisive
  • Strong
  • Compassionate
  • Loyal
  • Dependable”

or any other quality you may wish to manufacture.

Not that there’s anything wrong with these dimensions of leadership. They can be noble characteristics.

The problem arises when the need to project a certain quality begins to exert undue influence on how you make the decision, or the decision itself. In the end the inevitable result is a credibility hit to your leadership.

I am as susceptible to this as any other leader, but I’ve learned three ways overcome the temptation to succumb to image management:

1. Know your blindspots
Every leader has an underdeveloped quality. Maybe for you it’s in being indecisive. Perhaps it’s in lacking empathy. That underdeveloped quality will often be where a leader may be tempted to overcompensate. Resisting this temptation starts with awareness of the blindspot.

2. Listen to your trusted advisors
Leaders who fly solo are far more likely to run into trouble. Let your closest leadership advisors know your blindspots. And listen to them when they tell you that those blindspots may be clouding your judgement.

3. Be vulnerable with your constituents
Patrick Lencioni’s book, Getting Naked is a groundbreaking leadership read in this area. In it he points out that people “…are more interested in candor, modesty and transparency than they are in confidence, authority and perfection.” In other words, lead out of being real, not out of an artificial image you’re trying to project.

Should you pay any attention to the qualities you project in your leadership?

Of course you should.

But in the face of an important decision that’s not the time for image management. That’s the time for leadership.

By paying attention to these three steps you can ensure that your focus remains on your decision, instead of on your image.

the author

Scott Cochrane

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