- Average reading time: Approximately 3 minutes
Often, the little things are what really count. Like it or not, first impressions do matter. Remember Malcolm Gladwell’s blockbuster book Blink, back in 2007? The author stresses how quickly we decide to like or dislike someone. Our brains size people up in less than 250 milliseconds.
While character and communication skills including expressing your passionate purpose and matching powerful words and nonverbal behaviours are key, you will not influence the people you need to lead if your appearance telegraphs that you’re clueless.
Whether you are an executive up for promotion, an employee seeking more responsibilities, or a parent involved in community or team activities, how you look will open doors and put you in play.
Looking Good, Feeling Capable
There is a visceral connection between looking good and feeling capable. When we look our best, we feel confident. There is research showing a big link between our appearance and whether or not we are perceived as competent or incompetent.
People who appear to take care of their appearance and are well-groomed are perceived by others as more capable, likeable, and even more trustworthy.
Impact of Professional Appearance
Not surprisingly, however, your colleagues, mentors, and even your best friends are reluctant to give feedback on how you should improve your wardrobe, hair, and grooming. Advice on appearance is difficult for anyone to give, even with best interests at heart. At work, it is more perilous to critique appearances, especially to women and minorities. The executives I coach often avoid correcting an employee on matters related to the company’s expectations for professional appearance (aka “dress code”) even when they know the company’s professional reputation and customer-trust is negatively impacted by poor standards in appearance.
Surveys offer some guidelines as to what senior leaders expect. Sylvia Ann Hewlett of the Center for Talent Innovation surveyed 268 executives and interviewed 4,000 college-educated adults on executive presence, including appearance.
According to senior leaders, there are five aspects comprising good appearance:
- Being polished and groomed
- Being physically attractive, fit, slim
- Simple, stylish clothes that position you for your next job
- Being tall
- Being youthful and vigorous
Which do you think is most important in your work culture?
In the work I do coaching some very competent leaders, you would be surprised how often the topic of their own appearance comes up. Many of us are often uncomfortable discussing this personal and professional topic with peers or even mentors. We may be afraid we will appear unsure of ourselves or clueless if we have to ask.
Standards in Shifting Workplace Cultures
Granted, dress standards do change with the times as the workplace fills with younger generations, ethnic diversity, and overall relaxing of “dress codes”. However, this is no reason to let standards slip to that of the lowest denominator.
What do you think about this?
- Are you adapting along with the trends and still remaining appropriate with your personal appearance?
- What about those you lead? Is there a standard for professional dress and is the standard embraced and reinforced by your example and counsel when needed?
- Or is your workplace like Dilbert’s Casual Day Has Gone Too Far?
I’d love to hear from you. Tell me how you demonstrate that personal presence matters with the people you lead. Your comments are welcome. You can also contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, at 905-858-7566, on LinkedIn, or on Maestro’s Facebook page.
The conversation on Personal Presence continues in the next blog post:
- Your Personal Presence: Grooming Counts. An interesting twist on perception. When you make an effort to look polished, you signal to others that you see them as worth your time and investment.
Books and Audiobooks:
Leadership Presence: Dramatic Techniques to Reach Out, Motivate and Inspire (Penguin Group, USA, 2004), Kathy Lubar and Belle Linda Halpern. Available on iTunes
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