As a professional image-maker, I write this at a pivotal time for the United States. At the outset, I need you to know that I do not intend this post to be political. But, it is about American values. Read at will because, like it or not, image causes belief or rejection. I keenly observe what we are all witnessing in the degradation of our public discourse. It’s frightening, especially if we choose to do nothing.

I agree with the Washington Post’s Robin Givhan, who just wrote about the U.S. president’s sole focus on his image. To the detriment of his responsibilities as the Commander-in-Chief and in service to the Constitution, only his public image matters. That is to say, that’s all that matters to him. It’s dangerous, especially if we choose to do nothing.

In working with people in high level positions of authority, I hear their concerns from coast to coast. To summarize these concerns in our professional context, it is that image causes belief or rejection. The sense of division on a national scale affects corporate leaders and workers alike. Good leaders agree that now is the time to foster trust, and workers actively search for people and causes to trust.


Leading with Proper Focus


And there is public evidence that the national discourse and the workplace have collided. A daily email I receive from the New York Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin puts this workplace divide in sharp relief.

In his “DealBook” email from Thursday, October 1st, he printed comments from Palantir’s co-founder and C.E.O., Alex Karp {pictured}. When asked about the debate over companies embracing or rejecting social activism, he answered:

“Companies should really articulate what they stand for, and then investors should get to judge whether they want to be involved in that company.”

And, earlier last week, on September 29th, “DealBook” had a piece about cryptocurrency company, Coinbase. Brian Armstrong, its co-founder and C.E.O. wrote a blog post about his company being “laser focused” on making money. He further stated:

“We don’t engage here when issues are unrelated to our core mission, because we believe impact only comes with focus.” He asserted that employees want “refuge from the division that is increasingly present in the world,” essentially discouraging internal activism.

What we don’t read about is the kind of personal development work that they might do behind the scenes. It should never make the news that a leader is image conscious. It wrecks the whole point of developing a healthy image.


Because Image Causes Belief or Rejection


These two perspectives illustrate different approaches to company branding focus and leadership. I highlight them to show a balanced contrast in values, and how both show definitive focus. From there, how each C.E.O. leads his business will, in some way, depend on their image. And I don’t mean image in terms of how they look or dress. Those passive qualities support the main point, which is about the overall impression they give to investors and workers.

These C.E.O.s, and people like my clients – most run companies or manage teams – understand that the right focus yields a positive image. It’s completely at odds with how we see the running of this country by its C.E.O.

I must be really lucky to have yet to tell a client and top leader to quit being entirely self-focused. And we do some pretty terrific strategizing about their leadership presence that helps with the company’s bottom line. In this way, they cause belief among investors and workers. This is the proper way to focus on image.