You’re always on stage in the office — and out of it as well. People are constantly observing your behavior and forming theories about your competence, character and commitment, and these theories are quickly shared across professional networks.
These qualities together are the main ingredients of your professional presence, a key competency that plays a vital role in how effective and valuable you are within your organization.
But even though it’s such an important skill, I regularly encounter people, particularly younger workers, who aren’t fully aware of how their professional presence — or lack thereof — affects their organization and their career development. Acting in an unprofessional manner is one of the surest ways to cripple your professional development and dramatically limit the trajectory of your career.
Here’s what you need to know about this key competency.
Understand Who You Are
To have a strong professional presence, you have to first understand who you are as a person, what you value, and what your intentions and goals are. Engage in meaningful conversations with co-workers and ask for informal feedback or formal assessments.
Feedback can help you understand how other people view you and illuminate any gaps between what you want others to see in you and what they perceive. This will help you adjust your style as needed to strengthen your influence within your organization.
Knowing who you aren’t is just as important as knowing who you are, so don’t just focus on the positive feedback. While it’s helpful to hone in on those characteristics you exhibit when you’re effective, it’s also important to give careful consideration to traits or actions that you want to avoid, such as impulsive and emotional reactions to difficult situations or negative body language. Identifying these shortcomings can help you avoid them in future situations.
Beyond feedback, developing a personal tagline or brand statement is an excellent way to better understand and maintain focus on your professional presence. Start by developing a list of adjectives that describe you, then craft a short tagline for yourself that describes your mission in the workplace. A good example is: “creative and solution-driven but never unrealistic.”
This professional brand statement isn’t meant to be shared publicly; it’s just a way to personally guide your day-to-day decisions.
Take Constructive Action
Regardless of whether or not you think you have a professional brand, you absolutely do. The good news is you can take constructive steps to influence how people view you rather than leaving it up to others to form their opinions about you on their own. It does, however, take some intentional action.
Start by presenting yourself appropriately and professionally in all situations, behaving with maturity and maintaining a consistent mood and approach to work so you can serve as a calm and settling influence on others during tough times or a crisis. Work toward being comfortable making decisions and stepping up to lead people and projects when it’s appropriate.
Avoid making inappropriate jokes in the workplace, being late to meetings or displaying a negative attitude at work functions. Take note and match the dress of those in leadership roles in the organization.
It’s also important to remember that whether you’re on company time or not, you still represent the organization. For instance, abrasive or inappropriate public social media postings can possibly harm your professional brand, even if it’s during your free time. If your online persona deviates greatly from your workplace image, it’s eventually going to be an issue.
Focus on Building Relationships
Professional branding is not about promoting yourself in the workplace or selling a slick image to get noticed. This is a common mistake. The professional presence that matters over the long run is more about your actions and decisions, how you lead teams, how you communicate, and how you lead during a crisis.
Cultivating an authentic professional presence can help co-workers learn who you really are and what makes you tick. Hardcore self-promoters are usually more difficult for co-workers to get to know in a meaningful way. This can hinder workplace connections and hold back your professional development.
With that in mind, focus on building quality relationships inside and outside your department. This will increase your understanding of the company’s operations and help you build a network within the organization.
Being intentional and aware is vital to developing and maintaining a professional presence that will put you on the path to career success. Remember, in the workplace you’re always performing, whether you realize it or not.
Success Labs is a full-service, strategic organizational and leadership development company located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. For more than 25 years, our expert team of consultants has worked with hundreds of companies to explore their business potential and improve their company and cultural performance. Contact us to get proactive about your people strategy.