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Was Andre Agassi Right After All?

Photo Credit: CNN

Photo Credit: CNN

It was in 1990 that Andre Agassi uttered the famous line “image is everything” in an ad campaign for Canon.  As reported in his autobiography Open, he hated the tagline and the furor that came with it.  Once he spoke the words, he became symbolic of a culture that prized form over substance.

Twenty three years later, Marissa Mayer, the still fairly new CEO of Yahoo! adopts a sexy pose inVogue and people lose their minds.  It’s as if one provocative photograph can override a stellar career of corporate and technical accomplishment.  Maybe it can.

Lately, I’ve been contemplating the ongoing phenomenon of form over substance.  Today, I was asked to teach a leadership course.  “Who says I know how to lead?” I asked the person who was gracious enough to invite me.  “Well,” she wrote back, “it looks like you can and appearance is reality.” She may have a point.

I don’t think people pay as much attention as they should to appearances.  They’re taught to do, rather than worry about what they look like doing.  The prevailing sentiment seems to be “as long as the work gets done, who cares what people think?”

The problem is that it does matter.  People, particularly in the confines of a workplace, form opinions based upon appearance, rather than substance.  If someone comes in at 9:30, rather than at 9:00, they are labeled a slacker by people who aren’t around to see that person leave at 7:00 in the evening.  Perception becomes reality.  And people pay too little attention to the perception they are creating in others.

If it is important to demonstrate that the company is being well led by an engaged and attentive team, working from home is not the way to do it.  If it is important to demonstrate work ethic, working odd hours is not the way to do it.

It’s funny.  Marissa Mayer made waves disparaging work-from-home arrangements because of appearances.  She’s getting raked over the coals because she forgot her own lesson.