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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Davies

Public Image Ltd

Last week I wrote a blog about the PIE model for career development and progress, before following it up with an in-depth look at the first element of that model; Performance. Today is the third blog of this four part series, where we dig into section two; Image!

As I said in part one, Image is what people say about you when you're not in the room and I simplified this into a four step process, as follows:

  1. Understand how you'd LIKE to be viewed

  2. Find out how you ARE viewed

  3. Identify the gaps

  4. Do something about them!

One of the first questions I ask leaders when we talk about their leadership is what i like to call the Ten Year Reunion question and it goes like this: If your team had a reunion, ten years from today, what would they say about you as a leader? And I follow up with: What would you LIKE them to say about you?

This pair of questions starts to tease out aspects of the client's self image and it requires reflection and humility to consider areas where they're perhaps not viewed in the way they'd like to be, and why that might be. Perhaps you identify in a moment of clarity that you'd be viewed in a way that doesn't align with what you'd like. What are the things you do, or don't do, or the way you do these things, that are impacting on that? What would it take to change it and are you willing to do that work?

This same principle can be applied to your image with any audience. What would your spouse or partner say about you? What would your kids say about you? Your friends? Internal or external customers? The people who run your department and make the decisions on promotions, pay rises and bonuses? The people who run your whole business? Competitors? Decide who is important to you in the context you're considering and ask the questions. Be honest with yourself. Hold yourself accountable.

The challenge with this first step, however, is that you're measuring what you THINK people will say, with what you'd like them to say. What if what they'd ACTUALLY say is different? Well if it is, that shows that there's calibration needed, but how do you find out? Well there are a few ways! Firstly, you could ask them. A common tool for quick and dirty results, beloved by my old colleague and friend Liz, is the three words game. Email the group you're interested in feedback from and ask them Which three words would you use to describe me? Maybe they wouldn't be honest with you, perhaps they'd be worried that you'd be upset or that you'd kick off if they said something you didn't like. In that case, get someone else to do it. I'd appreciate your honesty and if you can send your responses to my boss at ... Perhaps that's not robust enough. Why not get a coach or a peer to conduct a feedback session for you. Give them a list of names and ask them to pick up the phone and ask a series of questions about you. What do you do well? Where could you be better? How could you add more value to them? What about the WAY in which you do these things? Then get your peer or coach to collate these and share the anonymised results. A third way can be a formal 360 process. Some organisations have these in-house but there are many third party providers where, for a fee, you can select the questions you'd like answers to, drop in the names and email addresses of the people you'd like to hear from and let the system gather the data and present you with a report.

Now you've got the data; whether it's rough and ready or refined and detailed. It's time to start looking at the gaps. Where can you see sunlight creeping in between the way you'd LIKE to be viewed and the way you ARE viewed. What are the implications of that? Is that gap likely to be a barrier to your growth and progression? Will it get in the way of your success? In that case, what do you need to do to change it? Who does it well? When in the past have you done it well?

It's not uncommon to find gaps across the stakeholder groups too. Perhaps you show up as caring and compassionate to peers but cold and robotic to senior stakeholders. Is that intentional? Is it beneficial? What might you need to do, in order to change it?

Behavioural change is often harder than change in your performance or outputs, because it can feel more personal and more ingrained. And just like with performance improvement, it's important to think about measures of success. How will I know I'm moving in the right direction? Remember, this isn't about removing emotion or personality from what you do. Quite the opposite - it's about being intentional about how you behave. Considering how you want to show up in a given situation or environment and working towards being consistent in doing that. I've have the privilege of mentoring a lot of graduates over the years and a common challenge that's been brought to me is this: I want to be more [insert behaviour or trait] - how do I do it? My answer boils down to this: You know the trait you want to be known for; in every situation, simply ask yourself how would someone with that trait behave? What would they do? If you want to be seen as proactive, what would a proactive person do right now? How would they approach that piece of work they got given this morning? What would they do with the two hours you have free tomorrow afternoon? The more you ask the question and do the thing that the answer tells you, the more natural and frequent it'll become!

Build a plan, get stuck in and make time to reflect on whether you're making the progress you'd like. Perhaps set a deadline for 6 months time and gather the feedback again. What's changed? Celebrate your successes, then ask what's next?

If you could see your perfect image in the mirror it would remove all your fear

Stanley Victor Paskavich

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