As much as I dislike the phrase, “An ounce of image is worth a pound of performance,” it is unfortunately true.
It’s unfortunate that appearing to perform a good job is preferable to actually doing a good job, but such is life.
We like to talk about meritocracy, but how can that function when appearance is more important than performance?
For me there are three types of successful people:
Given that image is more important than performance, it’s clear polished coal gets better recognition and probably promotion ahead of rough diamonds.
We have all worked for companies where there were leaders, who everyone knew were all image and very little substance, that was successful in spite of not having a lot of success and were continually promoted.
Also, in those companies, there were people who had lots of successes but were ultimately not successful, as they didn’t have the image, and consequently didn’t get the same promotions.
One of the challenges with this scenario is that leaders often promote people like themselves, so if you have polished coal in leadership positions they will promote polished coal.
Once you have a leadership that is predominately made up of these types of leaders, the organization is unlikely to be successful.
These types of leaders have been promoted on the strength of their image, which they now need to protect in order to be promoted further.
This means that they need to avoid any failure, which will blemish their image, and consequently avoid taking risks.
Earlier in my career, I worked for a boss who avoided decision-making, he actually told me “decisions were dangerous, and it was better to make no decision than the wrong decision”.
I always found this to be an amazing statement. Indecision is an anathema to me, I think indecision in an organization, and especially in leadership, is actually a lack of leadership.
I think decision-making, bold decision-making even, is a key responsibility of leadership.
But with image leaders this can be lacking, as I said, many of them look to avoid decisions or take risks.
They would rather not try for big bold goals as the risk of failure would be high and they cannot be associated with failure.
This is a bad situation as we learn from our mistakes, which means that organizations become wrought with indecision, accepting mediocrity and not learning rather than trying for success.
As a rough diamond myself, it is our job to try and achieve some degree of polish, as a polished diamond will always have much more value than polished coal.
If leaders promote people like themselves then diamonds will promote diamonds.
As leaders: it is our job to seek out the rough diamonds, help them to learn and become polished, and for them to become the cornerstone of our organization’s leadership.
The more diamonds, polished or otherwise, we have in key positions in our organization the more successful we will be: it will be a true meritocracy, where performance and results are most important; it will make big bold inspiring goals, and it will be one that tolerates and learns from mistakes rather than avoiding risks.
As much as we rough diamonds would like this not to be true, an ounce of image is worth a pound of performance, so if we have the performance then we just need to try and get a little bit of image and then we can focus on becoming polished diamonds. This will allow us to not only reach our true potential but also help our organization reach their true potential.
I started this post with the question; image or results?; and the best answer is both – image and results.
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