#429  from Innovative Leader Volume 8, Number 10          October 1999

Enhancing Your Leadership Skills and Image
by G.A. ďAndyĒ Marken

Mr. Marken is President of Marken Communications, Inc. in Santa Clara, California (phone 408-986-0100; email marken@cerf.net).

Youíve been in the field now for seven years.  Youíve just hit your stride with a good title on your business card, a roster of subordinates and a healthy paycheck.

Youíre good.  You know it.  Problem is, that doesnít make you a leader.  Thatís going to take some more planning and work on your part.

Obviously itís important to be considered a leader in your organization.  Thatís what keeps you employed.  Itís also valuable to be considered a leader in your industry.   In these days of consolidation, downsizing, mergers and acquisitions, you need to be viewed as a person whose leadership qualities transcend your present firm and give you value in the marketplace.

In todayís climate of economic uncertainty you can only be certain of yourself.

The only people the CEO wants on his or her team are people who are focused on being leaders.  The same is true of executive recruiters and prospective employers.  As a result, itís important to focus on improving in key areas: vision, listening skills, education, personal public relations, professional involvement and appearance.


The true leader possesses vision--the ability to see beyond the short-term gain when choosing a solution.  He or she can see with reasonable certainty how something thatís done today will impact success tomorrow.  They donít look for the easy answers, but those that will reap long- term results for the organization even if they move the firm in a totally new and more profitable direction.

More importantly, a leader is able to communicate this vision to subordinates, and empower staff members to work as a cohesive team.  He or she has that unique ability to inspire the team, take a project to greater heights and make staff feel they have ownership in the success of their firm. 

Listening Skills

A leader knows that it is as important to listen to subordinates, as it is to talk to them.  An executive who listens to employeesí concerns, and takes them to heart, can keep expectations and planning at realistic levels.

For example, some of the people on your staff are young and ambitious.  They enjoy, even thrive on, the late nights and weekends spent pitching in to complete a project.  At the same time you have employees who have family responsibilities.  Whether it's voiced or not, they resent these schedules.  They prefer long lead times where they can carry out the work within the framework of their total lives.

Weigh the individualsí needs because it will help improve employee retention, lower resentment levels and build loyalty to the company and to the executive.  Building longevity with your team makes it easier for the company, the projects and you to succeed.

While itís important to remain accessible to your staff, a seasoned leader doesnít become one of the gang.  He or she doesnít participate in excessive gossip or outlandish entertainment. 


Innovative and effective leaders keep their knowledge up-to-date to ensure they stay ahead of the competition.  The leader also expects and encourages, staff members to do the same.  To make certain it happens, the leader hosts in-house workshops or seeks local educational venues.  Leaders are voracious readers and clippers, print and on-line.  They read business, trade and related field publications.  They constantly clip and file articles that will immediately help them or may possibly assist them in the future. 

Follow these steps and youíll grow to become a leader your CEO wants on the team.  Youíll also be the leader all of the best people want to work for and with. 

Personal Public Relations

Itís equally important to enhance your image and reputation outside your organization.  That means carrying out your own personal public relations program.

Position yourself as a solid and reliable resource for local, regional and national media.   That means knowing your company, your competition, related organizations, industry facts/figures and industry resources.  It also means knowing how the industryís product cycles work, from concept to customer support, as well as how related and potentially related companies, technologies and products can impact your industry and your firm.

Finally your personal public relations program should include the ability to extend yourself even when thereís no short-term benefit to your company or you.  Members of the media have huge databases of company contacts but relatively short lists of people they regularly contact.  Be on that short list. 

If they contact you for information and assistance, and it can benefit your firm, follow through immediately.  Obviously you need to be certain you have your facts straight before you speak to the press.

Professional Involvement

Itís also important that you participate in professional and industry associations and societies.  You should aggressively network in these organizations.  Select your personal and professional activities carefully.  Choose those that youíre not only interested in, but those that will benefit you in the long term. 

Invest your time wisely to become a leader in the organization(s). Volunteer to be a guest speaker at meetings and conferences.  If youíre not a good speaker take a public speaking course to improve your performance.  Make certain the presentation is one that reflects an opinion and industry leadership.

As we move into the 21st century, and video conferencing is becoming an increasingly common form of one-on-one and one-to-many meetings, the written word is still extremely powerful.  Write great reports.  Write great presentations.  Write great e-mails.  Constantly work to develop, refine and perfect all of your communications skills.

While many recruiters say job-hopping doesnít hurt your chances for the next growth/leadership opportunity, firms still want people who show some stability--which means keeping a job for at least a few years.  A resume that is filled with job changes every year puts you at a disadvantage.


Now we come to the final, but equally critical, area in developing and maintaining your image as a professional leader.  Granted, it should be enough that you are a visionary, have state-of-the-art/state-of-the-industry expertise and keep your staff at peak performance and loyal and are sought out by and quoted in the press.    But unless youíre one of the very few, very rare true geniuses of the century, you also have to look the part.  Itís still true that we never get a second chance to make a good first impression.  Like it or not, grooming and attire do quite a bit in shaping that first impression.

While almost every organization has relaxed or eliminated its dress code, and dressing down is commonly accepted, no one ever gets laughed at for dressing up.  Fortunately (for men) starched white shirts, black pinstripe suits and rep ties have given way to a wider array of professional attire.  Women also have greater dress freedom including slacks.  Itís okay to blend in with your staff; but casual doesnít mean sloppy.  Being neat has never gone out of style. 

Develop your leadership skill road map using these guidelines and you will earn the reputation you want and deserve as a true leader.  Thatís the person your boss wants on his or her team.  Itís the person your firmís competitors want on their team.  Itís the person the executive recruiter aggressively seeks and woos for the next big opportunity/challenge youíre going to want to consider.

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