Kate Billing


I reckon getting your portrait taken is an act of self-leadership. You may not initially see the link BUT bear with me.

Getting a new portrait taken for your LinkedIn profile or website is a process full of inner conversation about the outward presentation, perception and judgement of Self. I’ve recently been through it for the launch of the katebilling.com website and am speaking from personal experience!

Deciding that we matter is the first step.

My sister Amanda Billing is the portrait photographer responsible for the images of me you see on this website and we’ve been talking about this idea of self-images and self-leadership in past few weeks. Amanda shared the following in a recent LinkedIn post about her experience of working with midlife women business owners, solopreneurs, and professionals:

Deciding to matter is what we do when we stand in front of a photographer. We decide our business deserves it. We state that we are an essential component in that business and business in general. We make a figure of ourselves and contribute that to the whole human enterprise. We confront society with an image of ourselves and say “What I have to say about this matters. Listen.” We also go through the slightly confronting process of acknowledging our own importance and uniqueness.”

The whole process is a matter of engaging with our inner self-talk. We engage in the mental and emotional wrestle with ourselves about the authenticity, or not, of the image that will be made. How do we want to be seen? By whom? As what? For what purpose?

This process brings to the surface a thorny paradox in our human needs for security and connection. We desperately want to be seen, but don’t want anyone to look at us.

The fear of judgement, the endless comparisons to past self and to peers, and the cutting self-criticality can be paralysing. Handling our negative and hyper-critical self-talk is key to this process unfolding in a way that creates value through the experience, not just in the final tangible images.

Based on my experience of working with women leaders to unlock the power of their self-talk, the portrait process surfaces several of the six common self-talk themes and offers us the opportunity to examine beliefs and narratives we have about ourselves, other people, and the world:

six self talk themes
  • Identity & Self Image: thoughts about who we are, how we will be seen, whether we look like we want others to see us (or as we idealise ourselves), and the many, often conflicting, stereotypes that surface in midlife.
  • Body & Wellbeing: our ageing face and body, our physical ‘imperfections’, comparing ourselves to the increasingly engineered images of midlife celebrities or those with younger bodies and faces than our own.
  • Work & Career: thoughts about how the images will be perceived by those we work with and by others in the market, with the overlay of many stereotypes and judgements about hair, makeup, clothing, and ageing faces. Do we look professional enough but not too ‘corporate’? Friendly but not too soft? Serious but still approachable? Do we dare to look like ourselves rather than put up a façade?


Finding a great photographer who understands this ‘portrait as personal leadership’ game makes all the difference. Rather than ending up with same-same, stilted, over made-up, cheesy, wooden or grimacing images that you don’t even recognise as yourself, work with someone who will create connection, help you relax and laugh, and let your Self out to play. The experience will be an empowering one and the resulting images will capture YOU. Check out Amanda’s work for some examples of what’s possible.

And if you want to work on that pesky inner critic and change the way you’re talking with yourself to unlock awareness, potential and authenticity, then nab one of the 5 places left on my two-day TUNE IN workshop in Auckland on 30 & 31 May (finishing at 3.30pm on the Friday). It’ll help you get over your selfie-consciousness and teach you how to use those inner thoughts as coaching and empowerment fuel for your life and leadership.

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