Image may not necessarily be everything, but it is a critical factor in an executive’s overall effectiveness.

Image – the perception that others form of you as a result of the impression you make on them – has a significant correlation to perceptions of leadership skill and the ability to perform on the job, according to research from the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), a top-ranked, global leadership education and research organization.

“Your effectiveness as a leader is tied directly to your image,” says CCL researcher Corey Criswell. “Your ability to project an authentic leadership presence in the eyes of employees, customers, other important constituencies and the general public is closely related to your ability to do your job well.”

Managing Your Image
Criswell and CCL senior fellow David Campbell are the authors of a new Ideas Into Action guidebook titled, “Building an Authentic Leadership Image”. The 32-page guidebook offers a series of practical tips and self-evaluations on how executives can take control of their image by assessing, choosing, crafting and practicing an image that will make them more effective leaders.

The authors’ observations on the importance of image are taken from a study of 150 executives who attended CCL’s Leadership at the Peak senior executive training program. The study found that leaders who displayed a strong image rated higher on several important leadership factors, including the ability to lead change, competency in strategic planning, foresight, the ability to inspire commitment and originality.

“Managing your image is not about creating a false image; rather it’s about recognizing genuine aspects of yourself that should be coming across to other people – but aren’t for some reason,” Criswell said. “It’s about coming across in a way that does both you and your organization justice.”

Image Busters
Specifically, Criswell and Campbell explore five “image busters” or common mistakes that executives make that have a negative effect on their leadership image.

  1. Too much seriousness – Leaders don’t need to be serious to be taken seriously. A smile and some warmth are positive qualities for leaders.
  2. Weak speaking skills – In a media-saturated world, people know a good speaker when they hear one. If necessary, executives should get a voice or speaking coach.
  3. Lack of clarity – Leaders who speak in vague, disjointed or rambling sentences confuse people. Executives should invest in media and presentation skills training to hone their message and delivery.
  4. Self-absorption – Leaders who overuse “I,” “me,” and “my” are isolating themselves and not engaging their audience. Focus on “we.” Inclusive language inspires listeners and draws on shared efforts and interests.
  5. Lack of interest – Dispassionate executives fail to inspire. True leaders must display energy, interest and passion for their work.
  6. Obvious discomfort – Executives who are tentative or uncomfortable in their roles create doubt among others in their leadership abilities and effectiveness. Successful leaders need to be confident and use body language that shows they are relaxed and comfortable in their leadership role.


“Many leaders assume image-building is superficial and therefore unimportant or only for celebrities and politicians,” Criswell said. “But our research and personal observations of thousands of executives clearly indicate otherwise. Image is an asset that can and must be managed.”
Additional information on this and other CCL guidebooks and publications can be obtained by calling CCL at 336-545-2810 or at the CCL online bookstore at www.ccl.org/guidebooks.