CCL has been studying leaders and their development for 40 years. Many of our practices have become “tried-and-true” ways to develop leaders and leadership. Here, we highlight ideas, strategies and tactics that we have developed and refined over many years and by working with many thousands of clients.

Your Image Counts

Every day, celebrities and politicians manage — and mangle — their public image. Business, education, nonprofit and community leaders are increasingly scrutinized, as well.

Here are eight common mistakes executives make – and you should avoid – that have a negative effect on their leadership image.

  1. Too much seriousness. Leaders don’t need to be serious to be taken seriously. Leaders who are overly reserved look wooden, stiff and uncaring. A smile goes a long way. Show that you can take a joke or handle pressure with graciousness and warmth.
  2. Weak speaking skills. In a media-saturated world, people know a good speaker when they hear one. The standard is high, and a leader with a flat or monotone vocal style, inappropriate volume or poor diction isn’t tolerated. Whether talking one-on-one or speaking to a crowd, pay attention to how you speak, not just what you say.
  3. Lack of clarity. Of course, what you say is enormously important, too. Leaders who speak with clarity of thought and message convey an image of effectiveness in a way that a leader who rambles or speaks disjointedly does not. If the message is unclear and nonspecific, the listeners will tune out and assume you don’t know what you’re talking about.
  4. Self-absorption. Leaders who overuse the words I, me and my are isolating themselves and not engaging their audience. People prefer to be a part of something, not just the recipient of your efforts. Even if something is your idea, your vision and your responsibility, keep in mind that your job as a leader is much bigger than yourself.
  5. Lack of interest. Think back to when you were in school — which teachers captured your attention and imagination? The energetic teachers who seemed to loved their job or the ones who lectured dispassionately from the podium? Energy, interest and passion for your work are incomparable assets. Are you interesting and genuinely interested in what you are saying and doing?
  6. Obvious discomfort. It’s painful to watch a leader who is uncomfortable in front of a crowd or awkward in conversation. If you are tentative or uncomfortable in the roles you play, people begin to doubt your ability to be an effective leader — especially in difficult situations.
  7. Inconsistency. Over time, your image becomes tied to your larger reputation. If you have a reliable pattern of behavior — one that is reflected in what you do and how you do it — your leadership image will be seen as genuine. Inconsistencies, in contrast, form an image of a leader who is flaky, insincere or dishonest.
  8. Defensiveness. Confidence and assurance are undermined when a leader is on the defensive. An unwillingness to consider other views, a knee-jerk defense of your position or decision, or an inability to seek and hear feedback all undermine your image as a capable, effective leader.

Learn more from the CCL guidebook Building an Authentic Leadership Image.

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