Your Personal Presence: Grooming Counts

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Shpersonal groomingowing that You Care

How much are you judged on your appearance at work? Surveys can 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. More than a third of the executives surveyed considered polish and grooming as most vital to one’s personal presence, ahead of physical attractiveness (less than a fifth). It’s not your body type, height, or weight that matters most; it’s what you do with what you’ve got.

Anyone can improve his or her looks through better grooming habits. While dress standards vary, good grooming signals discipline, competency, good health, and most importantly, that you care.

In a study at Harvard Medical School, judgments about a woman’s competence, likeability, and trustworthiness were affected by how much makeup she wore. The more makeup worn, the higher the women were rated.

When you make an effort to look polished, you signal to others that you see them as worth your time and investment. It announces that you take your work seriously. Senior leaders say that failure to come through on the grooming front implies either poor judgment or lack of discipline.

Rules of Engagement

Achieving polish comes down to minimizing anything that may distract from your skill sets, the message you’re trying to convey, and the changes you want to influence.

While the specifics of dress, makeup, hair, and grooming vary according to geographical and industry contexts, you are wise to make sure your appearance focuses the audience on your competencies rather than acting as a potential distraction.

Women need to avoid dressing in any way that draws overt attention to their sexuality, yet without appearing frumpy. Men need to be aware of group standards for their gender – how formally or informally do others in their audience dress? Is a suit and tie the norm, or will a polo shirt and slacks suffice?

At the same time, each individual needs to be authentic and not just copy others. When you wear clothes that feel uncomfortable, it detracts from your internal confidence.

Attractiveness Counts

There’s much research proving that intrinsically attractive people have an easier time:

  • They get hired more often
  • They earn more (taller people earn $789 more per inch per year)
  • They fare better in justice court sentencing
  • Attractive candidates get more votes
  • Attractive students get more attention from teachers

The fact that beautiful people earn more can be attributed to three things:

  1. They are more confident (in 20% of cases).
  2. They are considered more competent by employers (although this is a wrong assumption in 30% of cases).
  3. They have communication and social skills that enable them to interact well (in 50% of cases).

In the work I do coaching executives and their teams, I’ve found that paying attention to overall appearance goes a long way towards inner confidence for everyone. When you take care of your appearance and grooming, you become more comfortable socially.

What do you think about this?

  1. How important is polish and grooming in your profession and company culture?
  2. What judgments about skills, confidence, capability, and trust do you make based on appearance?
  3. Are your employees dressing appropriately to focus on their competencies rather than creating distractions?

I’d love to hear from you. Tell me about the challenges and successes you have with the personal presence of people you lead. Your comments are welcome. You can also contact me at, 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: Image Matters. Good news! Attention to polish and grooming can enhance your perceived attractiveness. Plastic surgery not required.

Books and Audiobooks:

Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success, Sylvia Ann Hewlett

Available Kindle Edition. Available on iTunes

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