Ballin' on a budget (could only afford antique clothing).


I’ll say something that’s a sometimes-unpopular viewpoint. But I say it in the spirit of tough love, because I believe empiricism shows it to be true:

Presentation matters. Appearance and image are key. If you are lacking in those areas (and you should be honest with yourself), you should make it a priority to improve.

I’m talking about, do you “come across” as the kind of person who can:

-Command the respect and admiration of others?

-Be a leader?

-Is highly intelligent?

I feel like appearance is kind of a touchy subject and I’m going into dangerous waters, given our efforts as a society to judge people more on substance, and less on form.

But I think that’s usually not what happens. And if it’s true that appearance is important, isn’t it a better idea to try to master appearance as well as substance?

Remember what I said in building credibility?

When you’re “sizing up” someone (when you meet them for the first time), do you:

-Make it a point to get to know them extensively before judging them, or usually have your mind made up in a few minutes?

-Respond better to people who seem more “elite” or “better than average” versus those who have the opposite traits?

Think about the standard you hold other people to. Don’t you think they hold you to similar standards?

When you think about it logically, it’s only reasonable that you would judge others this way.

-You’re busy. You don’t have time to “get to know” everyone before judging them.

-You want to make your own life easy. So you use stereotypes and heuristics to categorize others. You seek out patterns.

Also, bad image traits are a distraction.

Why waste your time being angry, or losing opportunities because you were too shy to pursue them? Bad image traits needlessly disqualify you from success. Managing your image can solve that problem.

Think about those that truly are successful. Don’t most of them have a good image?

Barack Obama. Steve Jobs. Mark Zuckerberg. Nancy Pelosi. You may like or dislike these people, but I doubt you would say that any of them are slovenly, unintelligent, shy, or undetermined.

But shouldn’t you feel good about yourself?

“Be happy (not content) with who you are, but always try to be better, and make it fun to constantly improve”

Having this kind of attitude (essentially the main idea) makes it okay not to be perfect, and makes it fun to improve.

So don’t worry!  :-)

From my own experience:

-My ability to speak eloquently and with authority means that people will usually not question my intelligence or conviction, and will see me as a leader.

-My disposition to dressing well seems to command the respect of others and connotes my strong conviction.

-My ability to demonstrate a true and sincere interest in others makes me more relatable.

-My willingness to listen to others, admit my own mistakes and emphasis on diplomacy show that I genuinely care about others and their opinions, and care about success much more than my own ego.

So I come across as someone who is to be respected, but someone that also has immense respect and admiration for others. I come across this way deliberately, and it has served me well.

It was all the more exciting for me to become this way, because throughout most of my life, I was the exact opposite! I was shy, easily offended, unkempt, and had a dismal sense of humor. Maybe I will go find a picture of myself in high school to post to prove the point (coming soon!).

What kind of image should you have?

For as sure I am as image is important, I am equally as sure that there is no definitive answer to this question. It depends upon your goals and your field. And, as is consistent with my blog’s theme, trying to “memorize” lists of “good” personality traits is pointless. If you have a mindset that promotes a good image, your actions will naturally follow.

1. Emulate the traits of leaders.

A book I read put it best as “spend most of your time in someone else’s shoes”.

Why reinvent the wheel?

Society has already determined that people in positions of leadership should have certain qualities.  For example, let’s think of a partner in a large accounting firm.  They usually:

1.) Have excellent sales and marketing skills (to find clients).

2.) Have excellent leadership abilities (to lead an entire office of CPAs).

3.) Are highly involved in local philanthropy (to give back to the community, network with others, and build a positive reputation for themselves and the community).

So, if you are in accounting (or aspire to be any sort of local business leader), you can work towards a good image by mastering these things

2. Understand—and be—the true definition of “confidence”.

When I used to think of “confidence”, a few images would pop into mind:

-Someone that could always out-talk others to get his way.

-Someone who would try to crush others that criticized him.

-Someone that felt like they could always tell others what to do.

You know what I’m talking about; we’ve all met tons of people like these.

Do you think they’re really “confident”?

Hah.  No way.

True confidence is being comfortable with yourself.  I find that people who insist on being right all of the time, or who treat other people poorly to boost their own ego, usually seem to have personality problems.

Confidence allows you to effortlessly act like your best self.

-If you were truly comfortable with yourself, who cares if other people get their way?  As long as the best thing is done, that’s all that matters!  

-If you’re not worried about “screwing up” and saying something silly, won’t you more freely speak your mind?

-If you were okay with being wrong, wouldn’t that make it easier to learn and receive instruction from others?

3. Actually be these traits that you show.

One thing I found very interesting from my work in public accounting is that most people keep two sets of personalities: their “professional” personality, and their “everything else” personality.  Their “professional” personality comes out at work, when talking to superiors; or talking to clients.  They use a slightly-more-extensive-than-usual vocabulary and act a little bit politer than before.  But it seemed kind of stilted and awkward.

Their “everything else” personality comes out the rest of the time, which often included talking down about other coworkers or gossiping.

The problem with a personality that comes out only when needed is that it’s like one of those signs in China where they get the English translation completely messed up (can anyone tell me where the smorking room is?); it’s there, but it’s obviously not for real.  Everyone notices, and everyone takes note.  Sometimes they even laugh, like we all did at the mistranslated signs.

The people I knew in public accounting who were very successful (i.e. the partners) seemed to have one personality.  Rather than pretending to have traits like the ones I mentioned above, they actually did have them.  They truly were willing to be wrong, would command the loyalty of others, and could truly relate to their subordinates.

Being these traits comes with practice.

Be methodological in your approach: write a list of the traits you admire.  Watch videos of great leaders whose traits you find admirable.  Think of how you do–or don’t–live up to those traits.  Come up with a plan.  Join professional groups to help improve (e.g. Toastmasters, if you want to improve your presentation skills).

Just make it a habit to get better, and you will!

I think everyone can have a good image.  It just takes practice and work!  Allow your image to complement your intelligence, and you will open up more doors for yourself.



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  • Steve Moore

    This is so true, whether we like it or not.  At a point in my career, I moved from being a techie and directly into senior management.  I didn’t like having to wear a tie and was uncomfortable for awhile to be a leader rather than a follower, but it  was necessary and brought me the respect.  It can sometimes feel like you are just acting a part, but that’s fine as it brings you the results, and you eventually become the role you are learning to play.

    Excellent point on emulating leaders.  During my career I often studied the people who were at high levels in order to figure what it was that got them there, carefully assessing how they act, how how talk, how they spend their time, and how they manage relationships. Usually you’ll find common traits which come down to strong leadership and communication skills.