After two decades as a management consultant and executive in the financial services industry, David is now President of McKnight ImageLab, an executive coaching and image consulting company. His personal life mission is to teach professionals how to transform and leverage their presence and brand. Properly used, it is a strategic tool to boost your performance, effectiveness and success in the workplace. We’ll learn all about the meaning of this below.
Tell us something about image consulting?
For me, image consulting is about raising a client’s awareness of the effectiveness and power of their visual message, communication style and presence. Before working with me, most clients had blind spots in relation to their image and the signals it conveyed. Through our work together I identify the blind spots and we explore how they are currently perceived. We then take action to strategically control and influence these perceptions.
Contrary to popular belief, image consulting is not just about fashion. However, it is about teaching someone how to use clothing as a tool to support their message and maximize their impact. We don’t stop there, we also work on communication, behavior and virtual presence. A new client reached out to me about being hired as the Chief Medical Officer of a large hospital system. We worked on his wardrobe, his presence and also on the furnishing of his office. As a result, he felt more secure in his leadership role. In fact, he recently wrote to me that after just one year he was promoted to president of the hospital. He identified our collaboration as a key factor that contributed to his success.
Contrary to popular belief, image consulting is not just about fashion. However, it is about teaching someone how to use clothing as a tool to support their message and maximize their impact.
Why is it important for a CEO to have an image consultant?
According to the Fall 2021 Fortune/Deloitte CEO survey, the talent challenge is the biggest challenge CEOs face. To support this, 42% responded when asked to describe their role in 1-3 sentences leading talent as a top topic. My bottom line is that CEOs have an opportunity to show themselves as inspiring leaders that talent wants to work for. In other words, they must be the example for others to follow. First, they need to be aware of how they are perceived and then make adjustments if necessary. As we used to say when I was in change management consulting, “The tone is set from above”.
In today’s post-pandemic world, CEOs will be judged on how they navigate the challenges of the virtual and hybrid workplace. It’s not enough to focus on products, service and competition. Without competent and satisfied employees, the company will fail. Therefore, CEOs need to be aware of their personal brand and message delivery. An image consultant can help him or her decipher the messages they may be unintentionally sending through communication, actions, and looks. In return, they can help develop a plan to fill any gaps. As one of very few certified image consultants and executive coaches worldwide, I am uniquely qualified to work with CEOs to stress test their assumptions and identify blind spots. I enjoy being a trusted partner in helping them overcome personal, organizational, political and human challenges.
Tell us about your Executive Presence Mini-Course and your book. How can you help people?
For those individuals who are looking for self-directed transformation, I have two resources to offer. The first is my book The Zen of Executive Presence. I wrote this book while still working as a full-time consultant. I wanted to write a book that would enlighten the reader about the four pillars that influence leadership presence. This includes appearance, behavior, communication and digital presence. Over the years, the book has served me as a platform to develop and conduct workshops and coaching programs for employees of large organizations.
I’ve taken full advantage of the pandemic lockdown and created a mini-course. It’s designed specifically for busy professionals and consists of concepts straight from my book. The Executive Presence Mini-Course consists of eight short videos that are between two and four minutes long. The videos are accompanied by a worksheet for reflection and action. My intention was to create a product with easily digestible, bite-sized content that is easily accessible and easy to consume. Also on the go. Both products can be found on my website: www.mcknightimagelab.com.
What are your top tips for CEOs to achieve great exposure and image?
As CEOs go through a workforce transition, it’s important to start with self-awareness. The focus is on a deep understanding of how they are currently perceived. Remember, it’s less about your intention and more about the perception others have of you. Once this is understood, it’s time to develop a plan that bridges the gap between the two and then implement it.
Second, a study conducted by Catalyst identified employees empathy as the top quality they wanted in a leader. The report revealed that “Empathy is a key driver of employee outcomes like innovation, engagement and inclusion – especially in times of crisis.” So I would encourage leaders to lead with empathy and communicate with warmth. These are two easy ways to change your presence and image.
In summary, understanding and improving your professional image is of paramount importance. Our image is a constellation of attributes and characteristics. The good news is that it’s completely controllable. Once a leader recognizes the role of their image, it can be used strategically to positively impact the organization’s brand and bottom line.