Getting Ahead-Part 1: Taking Ownership of Your Professional Presence

image of a hand holding a mirrorNote from Art: this is the first in a series of posts focused on the skills, tools and behaviors we must cultivate to develop as professionals and as leaders.

Whether you are responsible for the work of others or your “team” stares back at you in the morning mirror, there are many key skills that you must cultivate to help differentiate you from your internal competitors and to successfully grow your career.

Professional Presence, is one of those slightly squishy to define but critically important topics. Professional presence is that amalgam of qualities…confidence, authenticity, positive body language, proper vocal management, empathy etc. that others perceive in you and about you.

Professional Presence is your professional value proposition…your brand promise, manifested in your behaviors and measured in people’s perceptions about your character, your abilities and your worth to them and to the organization.

Like the great Olympic athletes we recently marveled at, top leaders and high performing individual contributors recognize the importance of deliberately strengthening how others perceive them. They work tirelessly to  hone and refine their natural abilities and to align their behaviors with the brand promise they want to develop and reinforce.

For someone embarking on a program to strengthen their Professional Presence, this is a journey of self-discovery (best helped along by an outside mentor or coach) that forces the individual to confront challenging personal issues and the need for behavioral change. In our programs working with high potential individuals on professional presence, there’s a fair amount of metaphorical bleeding that goes on as the individual works through some key questions.

6 Hard to Answer Personal Professional Questions:

1. What’s my meaningful and differentiable value proposition or brand promise? What is it that I do that adds value my firm and my teams? Most people are unable to initially define their value proposition without resorting to the weasel phrases that populate their CVs.

2. Does my value proposition or brand promise support where I want to go in my career?  What’s my go-forward brand promise?

3. How do others truly see me? Physically what do they see? Emotionally, what do they perceive or think about when they consider me and my work and abilities?

4. What are the gaps between my view of my brand and value proposition and the view that others perceive?

5. What behaviors do I have to change or develop to reinforce my brand promise?

6. How will I know if it’s working? What’s my mechanism for measuring and continuously improving?

Warning-Ignore How People Perceive You at Your Own Peril:

As humans, we have an uncanny ability to build a self-image in our minds that is clear, positive and often out of sync with what others perceive. While our families and friends know and appreciate us for who we are, and they mostly overlook our shortcomings,  when it comes to the workplace, a failure to understand how others perceive us is a potentially career fatal mistake. After all, others choose us for success. Whether it’s our boss, our boss’s boss or our team members, we are dependent upon them for advocacy.

5 Suggestions to Assess and Strengthen How Others Perceive You:

1. Recognize the need for you to cultivate your presence and to own your own branding strategy. Get over thinking that you are doing something here that is disingenuous. You’re not trying to fool people into perceiving something that you are not. You are striving to help people understand who you are and how you create value.

2. Spend time defining what it is you want others to perceive in and about you. Don’t minimize the challenge in this exercise. Take a look at your Resume and if it is nothing more than a series of functions and tasks, you need help here.

3. Identify the gaps between your view of your value/brand and the view that others have of you.  You need quality, robust feedback to understand how people truly perceive you…in contrast to your own self-view and your desired brand promise.

4. Assess the needed behavioral changes and develop an improvement program. Again, outside help is advised and on-going, robust feedback is essential here.

5. Regularly repeat the entire process.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Don’t be naive and assume that others view you as the confident, sharp-witted and agile leader or contributor that you perceive you are in your mind’s eye. In this world of constant change, a failure to manage yourself, your presence and your value proposition is tantamount to defaulting on yourself. Instead, take ownership and build professional equity by deliberately strengthening your professional presence.

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Comments

  1. It is so easy not just to ignore the question of how do others perceive me but to lie to yourself about it in order that you don’t have to face the difficult question. Great post Art, I look forward to the others in the series.

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