It’s been said that a leader’s image is their most valuable commodity. To effectively maintain our desired degree of influence, we need to be seen as ethical, competent, and generally worth being followed. Our image does not happen to us; we have a say in how others view us. One person who’s taken this seriously is Tom Cruise.
For over 30 years, Tom Cruise has been THE leading actor in American cinema. His success can be chalked up to his acting skills and the quality of the movies he’s made (which is true), but another factor is the image Tom has been constructing since the beginning of his career.
When Tom got started in the early 1980s, his peers and friends were indulging in their newfound fame and wealth through tabloid-filled tales of debauchery and excess. The reputation they built through these experiences distracted from their work and affected how the public saw them. As described in a recent article, Tom was well-aware of the stigma this negative image could have. In a 1986 interview he said,
I want no part of that or this Brat Pack…Putting me in there is absolutely absurd, and it pisses me off because I work hard and then some guy just slaps me together with everybody else.
Instead of adding to the public fodder, Tom turned all attention to his work. There were no ad hoc stories about his private life. Anything we learned was meticulously vetted by him and his PR rep. This may not be the case in our current “blogging-is-news”-filled world, but it’s accurate for the first 20 years of Tom’s career.
Tom knew early on that he wanted to be a Hollywood legend. This is not uncommon; most actors start out with this desire. Few, however, take the necessary steps (and endure the necessary sacrifices) to make it happen. Leaders are no different.
No one starts out in leadership with the goal to be mediocre. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, many let their image get away from them. And their work product soon follows. Here are four things we can all do to maintain an image that’s on par with our abilities and potential:
Be aware of perception. As Tom was aware of the latent ramifications of being branded a “Brat Packer”, we must remain mindful of how our relationships, decisions, and behaviors affect how others see us.
Develop your own brand. Whether it’s Jerry Maguire, Minority Report, or A Few Good Men, Tom’s brand is to consistently make high-quality, blockbuster movies. Determine what you want to be known for, what you want to accomplish, and how you want others to see. Then, act accordingly.
Don’t rest on your laurels. Tom has a diverse body of work. Born on the Fourth of Julyis nothing like Vanilla Sky which is nothing like Tropic Thunder. As leaders, we also need to push ourselves to constantly evolve and grow. There is no time to bask in past successes; there’s always a new challenge.
Create value. If you want an image that portrays your greatness, generate products that are useful. Glitz is nice, but quality is your target. Your work may not be as well-known as Top Gun or Rain Man, but it can be just as legendary in your industry or company.