On-stage versus Off-stage
While I was in college, I worked summers at a Boy Scout camp in the Oregon coast range. It was one of the best seasons of my life, and I remember the lessons I learned while on staff there fondly. One of the most important: managing your image.
The staff was comprised mainly of teenagers - high school and younger college students - the only people willing to give up an entire summer for less than $75/week. Teenagers on summer break aren't usually the first demographic that comes to mind when you think of "model citizen," either.
But at camp, in uniform, that was exactly what you were expected to be.
"Staff city," the loose collection of tents behind the dining hall where we all slept, was the only portion of camp considered "off stage." While in staff city, you were allowed to be yourself. You could say what you want, wear blue jeans, talk about home, and be a regular person.
Anywhere below staff city was "on stage." You wore your uniform properly, never even thought of uttering a curse, responded to "where are you from" with "here, of course," and were a spitting image of the Boy Scout in Norman Rockwell's famous painting.
Every scout who saw you in camp wanted to be you, so being a model of the kind of Scout they're supposed to be was important.[ref]I know of several staffers who were fired specifically for engaging in off-stage behavior while on stage from the other camps in the region.[/ref]
When Are You On-Stage?
As a business professional, you're often on-stage more than you know. When you're at the mall with your kids. At a bar with colleagues after work. At a conference among industry peers.
How you behave when you're on-stage reflects on you, on your business, and ultimately on your clients as well. If your public persona isn't the kind your clients would want representing you, expect them to jump ship as soon as they can.
The next time you're out, think about where you are, who you're surrounded by, and whether you're on- or off-stage.