Do you struggle with self awareness at work? We’ve all worked with, and for, individuals for whom knowing their blind spots isn’t exactly a strong suit. But how can you be sure that you aren’t one of these professionals yourself?
It’s an unfortunate Catch-22 that individuals who lack self awareness aren’t exactly set up to recognize they’re out of touch with their professional image in the first place. Or maybe you used to have an iron-clad sense of your professional reputation, but enough has since changed in our working world that, now, you’re feeling less sure of it.
Your image at work isn’t something that remains static. It has to be consistently maintained and nurtured, especially as team makeups change and you’re put on different projects and in front of new colleagues. In situations like these, it can be especially helpful to do a quick audit of your image before broadcasting one that dims your reputation to a wider circle.
Need help getting started on your image audit? Below, we heard from experts about the signs you’ve fallen out of touch with your professional image — and how to correct that.
1. Employees have changed (read: reduced) the way they update you on projects.
Employee autonomy is a great thing to cultivate; plus, no one likes a micro-manager. But if employees are “no longer telling you about projects like you’re the one in charge,” that could also be a sign your input and oversight aren’t seen as essential, Omer Reiner, President of FL Cash Home Buyers, said.
“While employees may worry about becoming redundant, senior leaders also face issues of redundancy,” he said. “When employees don’t report issues or updates like they used to, that may be a sign that the employees are handling these matters and are not looking up to you professionally.”
How to fix it:
You want to feel more in the loop, but now isn’t the time for a knee-jerk response that could get you labeled as a micro-manager. Make a point, for now, of simply asking employees if there’s any support you could be providing them on their projects.
2. At company events and conferences, people seem surprised to learn your title.
When you enter conferences and people “appear not to know you lead a company,” it may be time to shore up your professional image, Reiner added.
“Many networking events and conferences are designed for professional leaders, and the best professional leaders are almost instantly recognized,” he said. “I heard someone talk about a person across a store, saying, ‘I heard he owns his own business now. He is walking like a business owner.’ I still have no idea what they meant by ‘he is walking like a business owner,’ but something tells me people just know.”
How to fix it:
Pay closer attention to your body language and what it could be telling others about you at events. Everything from eye contact (or lack thereof) to posture can speak volumes about the way you carry yourself professionally — literally and otherwise.
3. You’re not dressing the part.
We’ve all developed the tendency to dress down during COVID. But if stretchy attire is now a habit you’re finding it hard to break, know that it could be impacting your image as a leader.
“Not dressing the part is like launching a nuclear bomb on your professional image,” Michael Knight, co-founder of Incorporation Insight, said. “A leader’s physical image is a literal element that plays a major role in their professional image. Dressing professionally — and ensuring that, each time you may run into colleagues in the industry, you’re dressed appropriately — is a necessity.”
How to fix it:
Update your wardrobe with a uniform more befitting of post-pandemic professional attire: “The use of power suits never gets old and is just the right thing for keeping a positive professional image,” Knight suggested.
4. Your “network” is filled largely with people you haven’t spoken to in ages.
The easiest way to get a pulse on your professional image? Looking at the current state of your network, CEO and longtime entrepreneur Chad Price said. While falling out of touch with people sometimes can’t be helped, if it’s become an across-the-board pattern, that doesn’t reflect well on your image.
“As a seasoned CEO, my career wouldn’t be in the place it is today without nurturing the connections I’ve made along the way,” he said. “Your professional image depends on how likable you are. There’s no way around it. If you find creating and maintaining new connections difficult, this is a red flag to check in on your mindset and how you are presenting yourself to the world.”
How to fix it:
Start allotting time to rekindling your network each week, and make a conscious practice of being open and generous with folks as you do so.
“When you combine this with the professional skills necessary to thrive in your specific career, you’ll be unstoppable,” Price said.
5. You’re realizing that people seem reluctant to approach you, for both work and personal matters.
Sequestered in our homes and out of offices for nearly two years now, a lot of people have developed a serious case of Ivory Tower Syndrome when it comes to their relationships with colleagues. It’s hard to maintain a good image as a leader, though, if people find you unapproachable.
“The most prominent sign you’re out of touch with your professional image is when people don’t reach out to you for the things you know how to do the best,” Emma Miles, co-founder of PawsomeAdvice, said. “If you’ve ever felt ignored at work, or if people in your circle ask everybody else for advice on things you know how to do, you’re out of touch with your image.”
How to fix it:
Being seen as more approachable starts and ends with the way you communicate, Masha Mahdavi, co-founder of SEM Dynamics, said. “Being approachable is important to keep everyone comfortable and at their best,” she said. “Communicating on a more frequent basis is key to solving this. Bond with your people, and work on creating better relationships with them.”
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