There’s no shortage of ways to ruin your image as a leader. Here are eight common mistakes executives make – and you should avoid – that have a negative effect on 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. A flat or monotone vocal style, inappropriate volume or poor diction usually 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. What you say is enormously important, too. Leaders who speak with clarity of thought and message covey an image of effectiveness in a way that a leader who rambles or speaks disjointedly does not. If the message is unclear and non-specific, listeners tune out and assume you don’t know what you’re talking about.
  4. Self-absorption. Overuse the words I, me and my and you isolate yourself and don’t engage your 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.
  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. An unwillingness to consider other views, a knee-jerk defense of your position or decision, or an inability to seek and hear feedback can undermine your image as a capable, effective leader.

This article is adapted from the guidebook Building an Authentic Leadership Image, by Corey Criswell and David Campbell (CCL Press, 2008).

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