Detecting the Impression Managers

A scorpion approached the riverbank, saw a frog and asked, “May I have a ride to the other side?” The frog said, “No, you are a scorpion and you will sting and kill me.” The scorpion pleaded with the frog, “That makes no sense. If I sting you, then I too will drown.” The frog, convinced of the scorpion’s good intention, agreed and told him to hop on board. About halfway across the river, the scorpion stung the frog. The frantic frog screamed out, “Why did you sting me? Now we both die!” The scorpion replied, “I can’t help it; I am
a scorpion.” 

In order to build a successful business, you must avoid the people who practice the art of “impression management.” Unlike the scorpion, these individuals are not easy to recognize, but they will sting just the same. Impression managers spend their lives defending and protecting their reputation. It sounds like a noble cause until you review the definition of reputation, which is what others think of you. Therefore, these people believe they can control what other people think of them.

You can only control your character. Character is who you are when nobody is looking, i.e. “the man in the mirror.” The problem with impression managers is that what you see on the outside is never who they are on the inside. They are consumed with giving you the impression you desire in order to win your favor.

Doing CSI: Who Are You?

The impression management artist is like the chameleon changing its external color in order to fit in with its surroundings. So how does one find these wolves in sheep’s clothing and why?

Why is simple – they are some of the most destructive individuals in our society. They destroy morals, create distrust, and eventually, if given enough authority, will take an organization over the cliff. How you identify them is extraordinarily difficult, but here are some clues.

Impression managers will not behave with congruent words and actions. Especially in times of stress, the impression management artist becomes very visible. As Warren Buffett says, “When the tide goes out you find out who is swimming naked.” Thus, time will expose an impression manager’s true nature because their only consistency is adapting to the situation in order to gain favor from someone.

Consequently, you would have to be around an individual like this through multiple crises to discover their true character. Unfortunately, it usually means a tremendous sacrifice will come as a result of the association.

Developing Front-Line Relationships

How does a person treat the waitress? As a leader, this is one of the best practices you can incorporate to help identify these individuals. Know the people in your organization at the bottom of the ladder. These people are usually observers and task-oriented individuals who the impression management artist has no respect for. Your frontline people know more about your organization than anyone. Never come out and just ask these individuals because they will become very uncomfortable and you will create division in your organization. Just develop the relationship and ask their advice. You will be amazed at how much you will learn. Study the lessons of General Patton; he was a master of frontline relationships and a great leader of character.

It’s important to the survival of your organization because the impression manager is always seeking a higher level of authority. The higher they get the less opportunity for exposure, the harder it becomes for you to remove them; most importantly when they crash, the higher their position, the more collateral damage is created. Remember, the person they are trying to control and manipulate is you because you have authority. Thus, the more responsibility you gain in an organization, the more likely you are going to encounter these individuals. An impression manager always needs a coattail to ride. You don’t need the baggage.

Be Preemptive

The other critical step is to identify these individuals in the hiring process. Hire for character and train for skill. During an interview, try asking the following questions: What are your greatest weaknesses? What are your greatest failures? What are the priorities in your life? What should be the priorities of our business? Every candidate should be asked the same questions and you will begin to notice character traits – most importantly, never hire someone who cannot identify their failures or the importance of those failures. Everyone has failed and if not, you don’t need their first failure on your dime. Not understanding the value of failure is a character red flag.

These individuals are very crafty in making you feel that you need them and that they are on your side. As a leader there is something deep in your gut telling you this individual is just not right. Trust your instincts and remember, “It is not the decision you say no to that will bury you; it’s the one you say yes to when you should have said no that takes you down.” Don’t be blindsided by thinking, “Well that’s just his/her personality.” This is a character flaw. There’s a big difference. Plato defined these individuals best when he said, “We can forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the tragedy of life is men afraid of light.”

Lastly, this time of year it’s important to remember:

“Not what we say about our blessings but how we use them is the true measure of our thanksgiving.” – W.T. Purkiser 


Jeff Piersall is co-founder and CEO of SCB Marketing, the publisher of SpaceCoast Business magazine. Contact him at (321) 537-4941 or