Perception is reality -by Ken White, Ph.D.

The way you are perceived by others is directly related to your success. If your colleagues, clients and bosses see you as credible, good things will come your way. If you possess executive presence and are positioned as a professional, people will want to work with you. They will respect you, want to hire you and follow you. They will position you in a positive manner.

In the old days it took years for an individual to become a “professional,” to establish credibility and executive presence. Credible professionals had a couple decades of experience, some gray hair, a corner office and an impressive title. Not anymore. Students, young professionals, emerging leaders and others can establish credibility and build executive presence by focusing on the Five Pillars of Professionalism.

Communication

If you want to be seen as credible, you need to be a high quality, other-centric communicator. Professionals with executive presence are great communicators. That means outstanding speaking, listening and writing skills. Those with presence are well-mannered and they adjust their communication approach and tactics to best fit the person or people with whom they are communicating. Above all else, they are other-centric. They know it is always about the other person.

Substance

Substance is knowledge and knowledge is power. Having a great understanding of your field is key if you want to be positioned as credible. You need to be up to date on your industry. Know the current and emerging trends. Know your field inside and out. Have an excellent understanding of the competitive landscape. Be the go-to person on your team—the one with the answers and the gut for your business.

Appearance

Credible professionals look sharp. They dress appropriately, professionally and neatly. What you wear sends all kinds of signals to those around you. It is very difficult to overcome a poor appearance so invest in yourself. Buy the best quality clothing your budget will allow. Take care of it and keep it cleaned and pressed. Your appearance should never be a distraction. Know what others expect in terms of your appearance and meet or exceed those expectations.

Initiative

There are two types of people in the world—winners and losers. The winners consistently push themselves out of their comfort zone. The losers are afraid to do so and are often stuck, sometimes in comfortable misery. It is not easy. But great things happen when you challenge yourself. Take on projects nobody else wants. They often lead to easy wins. Initiate conversations with leaders, stakeholders and colleagues. Take the lead by taking initiative. Doing so builds credibility, presence and professionalism.

Details

Professionals who are viewed as credible pay attention to details. The little things matter greatly. Look at your office, cubicle or workspace. What message does it send to others? What is on your wall? Does it send the right message? What about your vehicle? When associates or clients jump in your car, what do they see? When you use Skype, what is behind you in the video? Those details reflect directly on you and people notice. When they do, they make assumptions about you. It’s best when those assumptions are positive.

You don’t need several years of experience, a lofty title, and a large office to be positioned as credible or professional. Embrace the Pillars of Professionalism. Put them into practice daily. The way others position you will improve. Your career will improve as well.