Pharmaceutical Industry Management and Careers | How to Project Leadership Qualities (Even When You’re Scared Stiff): Dress and Act the Part

Dec. 12, 2006
Leadership is conveyed not only by the way you express your opinions, but by such things as the way you dress and present yourself (and even the way your office is set up). Career coach John McKee offers five keys to "looking and acting" like a leader. With practice, he says, they'll transform you into a more confident person (and the change is likely to be noticed by those who can advance your career).

Leadership: Looking and Acting the Part

“Your vision will become clear only
When you look into your heart.
Who looks outside, dreams;
Who looks inside, awakens.”

-Carl Jung, Psychoanalyst

Every year, companies around the world spend billions of dollars
packaging their products, and for good reason. The package tells an
important story about what’s inside. It lets people know what the
product is made of, how it will benefit them, and who it’s for.

Here are five key things you need to know about packaging yourself
if you wish to maximize your career potential.

1. You must convey dominance. Regardless of whether you’re a
woman or a man, your chances of reaching the top are better if
you’re taller. If you aren’t tall, make the most of every inch you have.
My experience has taught me that physical presence causes others
to take us seriously, both at work and in our personal lives. I have
never encountered a successful CEO who failed to make his or her
presence known.

The ability to communicate dominance is essential for any leader.
Without it you will be overlooked, ignored, and undervalued—not a
good position to be in when it’s time for a promotion or pay raise.

Executive presence is also communicated through body language. It’s
only logical to assume that the person who hunches her shoulders or
looks at the floor pales in comparison to the one who purposefully
strides into the room, giving eye contact, regardless of intelligence
and talent.

Those who were taught as children to have a high sense of
self-worth project their presence loud and clear. For others it is something
that, with much concentration, can be learned. Do not focus on
building actual self-esteem or confidence. Practices that support the
qualities of confidence will yield more immediate results.

You don’t have to feel sure of yourself to act sure of yourself. You
don’t have to be in control to appear in control. Act the part and in
time you’ll begin to feel the part.

2. “Dress for success” still applies. Rightly or not, society is less
critical of slovenly men than slovenly women. I am constantly surprised
by how some male professionals look while on the job. They
may be paunchy, with their pants hanging off of them because they
can’t be done up around that large waist; they may have unkempt
hair (facial and head); and they may not worry about coordinating
clothes with their ties, belts, shoes, or watches—but they still get
promoted or achieve success in their fields. Do you think a woman
would be as likely identified as a promotable manager if she had a
similar approach?

Oddly enough, some women regard these unkempt male colleagues as
kind of endearing and cute. Talk about maintaining double standards!
When picking an outfit, the key word is “appropriate.” Don’t try to
look really cool if the other women don’t. Check out the informal
dress code by observing the deportment of your female leaders. Take
your cue from them. Tummy or underwear display is never a good
idea for anyone who wants to be taken seriously, and heels only
make you look like you’re lurching when you move quickly. A good
rule of thumb: dress like you are already at the next management
level. It makes you look like you’re ready for that promotion.

3. Weight remains an issue. Maybe it’s old-fashioned given how
overweight the average person is today, but when looking for the
next generation of leaders, most bosses still choose those they
perceive to be physically fit and in control of their bodies. And unfair
as it is, it’s easier for men to get away with being overweight.

4. Conversational skills are a real asset. Those in the executive suite
place great importance on your ability to speak to others in a clear,
crisp, engaging manner. While the bosses I talk to don’t believe that
how you say something is as important as what you say, they rank
verbal communication skills very highly. So much so that a lack of
these skills can stop your advancement regardless of your results.

5. Good presentations and written messages can get you
The ability to present in front of a group remains one
of those less-well-recognized influencers of presence. Rehearse
your presentation at least twice before you stand up in front of an
audience. Written skills are also important, especially if you work in
an organization with offices all over the place. Concise, articulate
messages can really help differentiate you from the others issuing
emails all day long.

Tips for Improving the Packaging
• In a perfect world we wouldn’t judge anyone by the clothes
they wear. But we don’t live in a perfect world, and we certainly
don’t work in one. The clothes you wear are a reflection
of who you are, what you stand for, and what you think about
yourself and your position in the corporation.

• Your office, even if it’s a cubby, is also a reflection of who you
are, what you think about yourself, and how you view your
own position. Have you ever walked into an office and immediately
known—just from the décor and lighting—what kind of
person you were about to meet? Whether they were going to
be friendly or somber, open or serious? The same holds true for
you! When someone enters your office, her very first impression
won’t be of you, but the setting. Your office reflects your
personality. Now that you know this, you can use your office
décor to influence what your new visitors think about you.

• You may not be the friendliest person on earth, but if you need
your visitors, clients, or associates to think you’re friendly, then
let your office do most of the work for you. Make your office
a friendly space with bright colors and flowers. Or, if your
position requires you to be firm and precise when you are not
a firm and precise person, let your office décor set the stage.
You’ll win half the battle before your visitor lays eyes on you.
Tips for Improving the Packaging
• Looking successful often creates more success. Even if moving
into a nice office or dressing more professionally takes you
out of your comfort zone, it is the right career move. Your
company will expect you to put forth an image consistent with
your position when meeting with clients, customers, and peers.
And the image you project can help you close new deals,
negotiate a better salary, or get your ideas taken seriously. A
lack of presence at this juncture could cause you to be held
back later on.

• Don’t confuse looking and acting the part with being ostentatious
and over the top. Remaining authentic is always a
positive trait, so find a way to remain true to yourself.

About the Author

John McKee | John McKee