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How to cultivate a better professional image for yourself

1. Quotable quote

"The first impression is usually lasting, largely because people's perceptions are not easily changed, but also because you are likely to keep projecting the same image.

The way you look and what that conveys are part of your performance. Recognise that the way you look affects the way you work and the way other people perceive your work. Cultivating your image means defining and focusing more sharply on who you really are. But it is of the utmost importance that you be authentic and genuine and that you not seek artificially to blot out aspects of who you are and the way you act."

Jeffrey Davidson, Blow Your Own Horn, AMACOM, NY, 1987, p. 29.

2. Ask yourself

Look at yourself through the eyes of your staff for a moment. When you walk into the office or factory, imagine that each person is thinking two descriptive adjectives about you - such as ‘confident’, or ‘aloof’, or ‘well dressed’.

What would they be thinking about you? Why? What might you need to do about it?

Denis Waitley, The Psychology of Winning, Brolga, Ringwood, Victoria, 1979, p. 41.

3. Viewpoint

"My proper-speaking schoolteacher grandmother used to say that the way you talk is like the way you dress; to present your best image, you use what’s appropriate for the occasion and leave the rest in the closet."

Clarence Page, Chicago Tribune.

4. Don't forget

Practise what you preach…

If you’re an advocate of teamwork, do you work well with others?

If you ask your staff to take risks, does your behaviour match your words?

If you recommend lifelong learning, do you attend seminars to keep up to date in your field?

If you require your staff to keep current by reading the professional literature, do they see evidence that you are a reader?

Managers who don’t put into practice what they preach lack credibility, and others will be reluctant to follow their advice.

Put this reminder on your office wall: ‘Walk the Talk!’

It’s all about image!

5. Getting yourself noticed

Promotion no longer is an automatic process. A key factor in getting ahead these days is that you project the right image and that the right people notice you. Consider these suggestions:

  • Gain the attention of influential people. Look for opportunities to be appointed to project teams or task forces. Contribute articles to journals. Display cheerfulness, energy and courtesy, even when you don't feel like it.
  • Look and feel the part. Check out your personal appearance. Remember the saying: dress successful, be successful. Read up on how to appraise and improve your skills, and on how organisations function.
  • Do more than your share. Take on tasks others are not keen to do. Be prepared to take risks. Offer to take on jobs that will lighten your superior's load.
  • Be seen. Attend functions such as farewells, award presentations, meetings etc. Become more than just a member of a professional association-become active. Write articles for newsletters. Be visible.
  • Network. Getting ahead requires that others, within your organisation and outside, respect you and co-operate with you when tasks have to be achieved. Success requires that you get involved with and be known by others.
  • Campaign discreetly. Do not announce your personal publicity strategy to others. Finesse and diplomacy are important if you are to succeed without upsetting others.

6. Get a grip

Your handshake can speak volumes about the kind of person you are, but it's something we don't always think too much about.

The literature says that, to send a positive signal, you should extend your hand with the thumb up and open. Wrap your fingers around the other's hand and shake once or twice from the elbow, not the shoulder. This produces a firm handshake that is not too weak ('wet fish') or too strong ('bone-crusher').

Incidentally, the person who offers the hand first creates a psychological dominance, particularly if they also speak first.

And don't forget-always carry your briefcase and other items in your left hand, so you'll always have your right hand free for that welcoming handshake.

7. Setting the example

The top concern of management is - and must be - people. That's the opinion of Lawrence Appleby, former chairman emeritus of the American Management Association. In his view, 'management is unquestionably a matter of individual example for the purpose of inspiring good practice by other people.'

And what happens in your organisation - or doesn't happen - depends on the people who work there. These people will take their cue from you. But managing people well is no easy task, for to be a good manager, you sometimes have to step on other people's toes. The trick is to do so without messing up their shoeshine. The best way to do this is to set the example in the following ways:

  • Abide by the rules you set for staff.
  • Be as well organised as possible.
  • Do not preach dedication and 'giving that little extra' to the organisation and then be the last to arrive in the morning, the first to leave in the afternoon, the one who 'sneaks out' a little earlier at Easter.
  • Keep up-to-date on changes and innovations.
  • Dress the part of a manager.
  • Stay in good physical shape
  • Avoid gossip, bad-mouthing, and making excuses for ineptness.
  • Seek professional help when it is needed.
  • Don't pass the buck.

It's all about image!

8. If you're looking good, you're looking good

Psychological studies confirm that your chances of success in life are far better if you're attractive. Among the conclusions:

  • Teachers treat good-looking students better and they are more popular with their fellow students.
  • Good-looking job applicants are picked in preference to more homely people, even when qualifications are exactly the same.
  • More people will stop and help an attractive person who is in trouble than a plain person.
  • As well, attractive people actually do tend to perform better. They have self-confidence and a good image of themselves.

But for us plain people, all is not lost. Fortunately, says the research, for the rest of us our personality affects the way people see us. A dynamic, outgoing person is often thought appealing, regardless of the way s/he looks.