A few months ago, my neighbors chopped down their thirty-foot oak tree. Though the old tree was green, vibrant and stood for more than forty years, it’s outer appearance camouflaged it’s inner condition. Erosion and decay lay just beneath it’s exterior, forcing my neighbors to cut it down.
My neighbor’s tree reminded me of people who focus on their external image through impressive resumes, network lists, and professional attire, but are unaware of the erosion of their internal image —an image that reflects their values, character, and standards.
Your internal image is your “likability factor.” It is the intangible aspect of your professional appearance that draws people to you and your business and keeps them there. I have learned that when you neglect to clearly define your internal image, you place yourself at risk for assumptions and inaccurate judgments, which can derail your objectives and create unnecessary roadblocks. A well-managed internal image; however, represents the best of your personality, character and principles and gives a clear message depicting who you are and what you and your business represent.
Nurture your internal image by cultivating these five essential characteristics.
Integrity: Integrity reflects consistency between your internal and external images. For example, if your promotional material promises on-time product delivery, then you should also return phone calls punctually. Lack of consistency with respect to your integrity spurs suspicion, which not only creates personal distrust, but also cultivates misgivings about your product or service.
Tips: Creating an image of integrity requires honesty, reliability, and ethical practice in big and small things. Enhance your integrity by responding to emails even if it means that you have to let someone know that you will have to get back with them later. Deal with offenses openly and honestly instead of holding onto disappointments and avoiding conflict. In the bestseller, Integrity, Henry Cloud asserts, “Integrity is not something that you either have or don’t, but instead is an exciting growth path that all of us can engage in and enjoy.”
Self-confidence: Self-doubt can lead to procrastination, indecisiveness, or general failure to act. This can cause people to assume that you are aloof or lack talent. Confidence, on the other hand, gives the appearance of self-assurance, competence and capability.
Tips: Develop confidence by leveraging and working within your strengths rather than your weaknesses. Take the Gallup Poll Strengths Finder assessment and discover your strengths. Begin your day by reflecting on past accomplishments and envision your future success. Identify three positive and affirming statements each day—post them and repeat them often.
Self-management: Disturbing emotions—anger, fear, worry, grief, shame and jealousy—are common feelings. However, acting on your emotions can give your colleagues the impression that you lack judgment and are a poor decision maker. Controlling your feelings, on the other hand, creates an image of stability, reliability and trustworthiness.
Tips: Learn to manage your emotions by first monitoring them. Click here to read, “How to monitor your emotions and increase emotional awareness.” What is triggering your disturbing emotions? What thoughts and behaviors are evoked? What calms you down? Avoid discussions or making decisions when your emotions high. Write down your options and choose the best one 24 to 48 hours later. Allow your emotions to subside before responding and ensure your decisions are based on sound judgment.
Awareness: Many business and ministry disasters can be avoided if leaders remain aware of the conditions of their environment. Avoid surprises by being alert to signs of potential problems. Lack of awareness creates an image that depicts the absence of engagement or proficiency. Awareness, however, causes others to see you as sensitive, responsive and capable.
Tips: Cultivate awareness by obtaining feedback through focus groups, surveys, and interviews. Survey Monkey is a powerful tool that contains survey templates to help you develop an organizational questionnaire. Allow people to submit their comments anonymously and then respond openly to their recommendations and suggestions.
Optimism: Positive people create images of flexibility and openness whereas rigidity, pessimism, and complaint create atmospheres of hopelessness and helplessness.
Tips: Develop an image of optimism by holding brainstorming sessions, rewarding creative problem solving, catching employees doing something good (click here to download Ellen Freedman’s free article), and listing one-hundred positive possibilities about your business or ministry.
Though an external image is an important component in attracting business and increasing your bottom line, ongoing development of your internal image is essential in establishing your credibility, fueling momentum, and sustaining your customer or ministry base.