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Image is Everything! But is that really what matters most?

Know who you are, think about how you want to progress, do what needs to be done, and become who you want to be.

Remember the tennis player Andre Agassi?

My kind of guy. 

Now that I have mentioned his name, what comes to your mind about Andre Agassi?

Tennis? Rebel? Wimbledon? Long hair? White clothing? Steffi Graf? Aggressive and attacking tennis style? The number one tennis player for many weeks and a grand slam winner.

Perhaps you don’t know him.

Let me characterize him to you with two little stories. One is about image; the other is about coaching. Both stories are relevant when you have the ambition to become a leader or want to be a better leader.

But first two questions for you, now that I’m shifting my focus from understanding SELF to becoming a LEADER.

Question 1: how are you perceived by the people you work with, the people who know you? What words do they use to describe you?

Question 2: How good are you at coaching people? How well can you lead a conversation through questions?

Both questions are relevant in transitioning from a capable and performing individual to a leader for whom people like to work.

Let’s go back to Andre Agassi for some more illustration.

At a very young age, Andre became known for his hard-hitting forehand, hard rock-style long hair, and jeans-type tennis shorts. Being from Las Vegas, he was soon nicknamed the Las Vegas kid. During a commercial for Canon Rebel in 1989, he introduced the slogan:

“Image is Everything!”

Andre Agassi

“Image is everything” became the slogan that was tied to Andre Agassi forever. But Andre was not a successful tennis player yet at that time. Yes, he was a gifted talent, known for being aggressive on the court, but he was inconsistent and not always easy to deal with. 

He further built his image of being different when he showed up at Wimbledon dressed in white only. At Wimbledon, tennis clothing must be predominantly white, but colors are allowed. Andre took it to another level. He walked onto the court, and no color was in sight. He started a trend. Many would follow later, like Roger Federer. Image is everything.

Andre’s career changed when he hired former tennis player Brad Gilbert as his coach. Brad got Andre on the path of strategy, consistency, and understanding your opponent. Brad knew how to get through to Andre and make him understand that not every hit needs to be a winner. 

That’s why I loved watching Andre Agassi. I was not a gifted tennis player, but I knew how to hit a ball. Unfortunately, I was very tall and not quick on my feet. Smaller, more agile players often beat me while keeping the ball in play, sending me from one corner to another. So, I had to use my weapons. I needed to keep rallies short. I needed a. A powerful serve, followed by a good volley or hard forehand. That was my strategy. 

Get the point as quickly as you can. 

Just like Andre when he was younger. But then he started listening to coach Brad. Coach Brad taught him to analyze his opponent. To understand the guy’s strengths and weaknesses. To dive into the enemy’s mind and try to outplay him before the game was even played. 

They started working this way and developing game plans like chess games. Andre became more consistent in his play, using his weapons when needed. But he primarily played to his opponents’ weaknesses, knowing that, in many cases, he was the more talented tennis player. Andre started winning and became known as ‘the punisher.’

Andre won eight grand slams and one Olympic gold medal in his career and remained the world’s no.1 tennis player for eight years and 150 days. With that record, he is fifth on the all-time list behind Federer, Djokovic, Nadal, and Jimmy Connors.

Andre Agassi transformed himself from a rebel to one of the best tennis players in the world — all because he started listening to his coach.

Why does this story matter to us, ordinary mortals who aspire to be inspiring leaders?

First, consider what you want to be known for.

Image is everything. Being considered inspiring is a good image. Being considered a micromanager is less of a good image. When you become a leader and start leading teams, spending time on your desired image makes sense. Once you have an image that’s not favorable, it’s hard to change it.

Second, as a leader, you are expected to coach people.

It is equally important to be known for being coachable. Some people are coachable; others are not. When I have to determine someone’s talent, I always ask people who know the person whether the individual is coachable.

When you’re coachable, you’re very likely also a better coach because you understand the concept of listening, asking questions, objective reflection, and listening to other perspectives.

Erikjan Lantink

All this doesn’t mean you can’t be an independent thinker, as I elaborated previously. It’s good to be known as an independent thinker. It means you have a vision for challenges you may be facing and won’t shy away from sharing your opinion with others.

But it does not mean you have all the answers to each problem. That’s the mistake I see many (new) leaders make. They were effective as individual contributors, known as experts in their fields, and then, when faced with the opportunity and responsibility to lead people, they believed they needed to know it all.

That differs from the spirit of an effective leader who wants to be considered an independent thinker. The right spirit is to be observant and aware of your context, ask for and listen to feedback, and coach your people to do the same while maintaining confidence in your own ideas.

If you can do that as a leader, it will help you become known as an effective leader, just as Andre Agassi became an effective top tennis player.

To summarize, know who you are, think about how you want to progress, do what needs to be done, and become who you want to be.

Know. Think. Do. Become.

Your turn: Are you coachable?

Erikjan

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Erikjan Lantink
Business & Leadership Coach

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