What do khaki slacks and a red sweater have to do with looking like a leader?
This outfit was what the vice president we were coaching decided to wear to a major presentation at an all hands company meeting.
The meeting was casual. So the vice president aimed to be casually dressed but also to stand out.
Oh, by the way, the vice president was a man. And he was the one who brought up the subject of what to wear.
We know you want to be a leader. So, naturally, you are focused on developing leadership skills and positioning yourself to be noticed.
But have you thought of whether you look like a future leader?
What, you are thinking, yet one more to-do? Yes, since our mission is to help you catapult your career to the stratosphere.
For you as a foreign-born professional, your appearance may even be the key factor that gets you noticed to begin with.
You may look very different from most leaders in your organization. You need to ensure that your appearance contributes to your career growth.
Because, in the American workplace, making a good first impression is a strong value.
To help you assess what impression you make, analyze four key areas. Then follow our suggestions on how to score an “A” in the important ways that contribute to making a good impression.
We base our recommendations on more than 30 years of coaching executives in Silicon Valley.
In our conclusion, we offer more tips for leadership presence and announce our Speak From Your Strengths classes for women.
4 Keys to Leadership Appearance
Here are the four key areas of your appearance that you need to assess:
Watch any leader walk into a room. You will notice good posture.
Leaders stand straight and tall, and they stride confidently into any setting.
Recommendation: Catch your reflection in office windows as you walk by to see whether you hold your head high and your shoulders back. Ask a friend to videotape you as you walk into a room. Practice walking to find a comfortable, but authoritative, stride. Tell yourself, “This is my space,” as you walk.
Have you seen many leaders with long hair and/or facial hair?
Followers want to see their leaders’ faces – their eyes, furrowed brows, their smiles. To build trust, leaders offer an unobscured view of their faces.
Many leaders even take off their eyeglasses occasionally. They also use them as a prop, removing them when making an important point so they can look directly at listeners.
Recommendation: Assess how visible your face is. Men with facial hair and women with bangs and long hair may want to ask a trusted colleague for feedback.
Leaders rarely have any distracting mannerisms, like stroking their chin or scratching an imaginary itch on their arm.
What do you do when you are nervous?
We once worked with a new CFO who discovered through our videotapes that he tugged at his bottom shirt button whenever he felt nervous. He had to work hard to get rid of this bad habit.
Recommendation: Get your presentation or a conversation videotaped. Watch it without sound to identify distracting mannerisms.
You don’t need expensive clothes to be a leader. But make sure they fit.
Leaders don’t have shirt or blouse sleeves that hang more than an inch or so past their wrists. We have advised women executives to wear looser skirts and men executives to have their shirt collars re-sized. You want to look neat without having to adjust anything when you move.
Recommendation: Get advice from a tailor or a dry cleaning service that offers alterations. And follow the practice of our vice president who chose clothes a bit dressier than those of his staff.
More Tips for Projecting Leadership Appearance
These four key factors are a baseline for projecting leadership presence. Here are additional tips:
Shake hands with a firm grip. This is true for women, too. A firm grip in the American workplace is associated with confidence.
Look directly at people’s eyes. We understand that direct gaze is considered rude in many Asian cultures. However, direct eye contact in the American workplace is associated with being trustworthy.
Put one hand in an empty pocket when you feel nervous. In some cultures, hands in pockets are considered rude. But leaders in the American workplace place one hand in the pocket, making them look authoritative. You will also notice this hand is still, not fidgety.
By the way, you won’t find this last recommendation in any books. It’s a gesture we discovered from observing successful executives.
Speak From Your Strengths: Classes for Women
We are now offering three classes in November and December through Meetup.