Whose photo is on your profile?

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

That one post…it was so simple, and it felt like a landslide movement. 

It was simple, yet so profoundly impactful it hit me like a lead balloon. It went against everything I had been trained to believe and do, in its context. 

This post was raw; it was deep, meaningful, introspective, honest, and relevant for anyone who saw it. It gave me and thousands of others pause, considering the amount of comments and applause votes. We all were encouraged to really stop and think: what does it mean to be our true selves, and how do we accurately share that in an authentic way?

What was this post that showed up in my newsfeed? A woman on LinkedIn whom I’ve never met, changed her profile photo. This is a woman with a big role at a very large global company. Gone was the profile image showing her dressed in a perfectly tailored dark-colored suit, flawlessly straightened hair and exquisite makeup, stunning lighting, perfectly designed background, and her expression was one of confidence, determination and gusto. She replaced it with a photo that looked nothing like her prior photo. Her hair was not ironed straight; it was slightly wavy, looking quite natural. Her makeup was sparse, and the lighting was such that her natural skin tone, along with a few freckles, shone through. The background was plain. Her smile was calm and inspired, not forced. Her new profile photo, she indicated in her post, was who she really was; and to me, it was absolutely perfect.

We are all taught to look certain ways in our professional profile photos. Getting ready for a profile photo is prescriptive. We all have to look exactly the same. Tailored suit coat (preferably dark color), well done hair and minimal makeup, excellent lighting, carefully designed background, cross arms or keep them at the side, look over one of your shoulders, and find a facial expression that’s strong and powerful, yet calm and confident. Once the photo is snapped, we go back to our actual selves. Back in real life, we end up not looking anything like our carefully planned and staged profile photos.

In the past, I’ve had folks say to me, how different I look than my profile photo. Has that ever happened to you? In hindsight, I probably thought, “wow, that extra hour on hair and makeup really paid off” when today, that same comment makes me wonder: who IS the person in my profile photo? If I don’t look like that in real life, what message am I sending, trying to look like someone I’m not?

This profile photo prescription is in stark contrast to what we learn about leadership: that clothes don’t make you a leader. That is absolutely true, and the ways of remote work during the pandemic has proven that effective leaders can wear whatever they want, work from wherever they are, and never miss a beat. We all read articles and books on leadership. The majority of the time we read about qualities like integrity; being humble; honest; open; excellent listeners; engaging; transparent; empathetic; supportive of our teams. None of these attributes come with purchase of ties, pinstripe suits, or brand-name outfits. No hair or makeup or lighting will produce a leader. These leadership qualities and skills are developed over time, and we can access them 24/7, whether wearing pajamas or a custom made suit and Italian shoes. 

Remote work has definitely re-defined “dress for success” and has absolutely shifted the dress code. No matter what we are wearing in our remote meetings, we are all still collaborating, sharing ideas, leading and influencing, following and learning. We are all wearing what we are most comfortable wearing. We are all still using our brains and our critical thinking skills, and we are all making each other better than when we woke up through the wonderful exchanges of ideas…all while wearing slippers, baseball hats, hoodies, and sport coats…we are all showing up as ourselves. 

I changed my own LinkedIn profile photo a few weeks ago. It actually was quite difficult for me to go away from the profile image prescription, because part of my true self is being a follower. When I questioned exactly what or who I was following, I realized that wasn’t the question at hand. What I really needed to answer was, why wasn’t I leading with myself. I was not showing you or anyone else an accurate image of Kate; it was instead an image of what I look like when I follow the profile photo rules. 

My new photo is more me. I took it with my iPhone. It’s flawed, just like me. I’m not wearing any makeup. I’m wearing a cozy turtleneck, and I’m smiling while thinking about my favorite people and hobbies. I’m in my home office standing against one of many undecorated walls (because I’m fairly utilitarian, I don’t need or want a house filled with art and decor). I’m also wearing yoga pants and slippers. I still have my brain power, my degrees and certificates, and my abilities to lead, follow, influence, coach, support, engage, share, empathize, listen, guide, do, be transparent, and succeed.

I am curious what will come about for dress codes when we see employees returning to their offices; if they do at all, given the resounding success many organizations are seeing with remote-based work models. It’s tough to rip off the proverbial band-aid when it comes to professional appearances, however at the same time, with more and more corporations making great strides to help their employees celebrate their individuality and bring their whole self to work both in-person and remotely, we have to start somewhere. What’s your take on this concept, and finding ways to lead from your self in accurate and authentic ways? I’d love to hear about it!

Lead on, everyone!

Me as…me!

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