Dress like a lady, LEAD like a boss!
Studies show that people make major decisions about you within the first seven seconds of meeting you. Whether you are approaching a new co-worker, employee or boss, you should know that the instant you meet, their brain begins to make a thousand different assumptions, based solely on how you look. It may not seem fair, but they will silently be assessing who you are based on your presentation, and whatever they decide in those moments will be very hard to undo. Now, I know that you are more than your appearance, we all are. And I by no means want to put anyone down because they don't look a certain part, or dress a certain way. But facts are facts. And the harsh reality is, the we communicate with the way we present ourselves - so what are you communicating?
The next time you get ready for work (or anywhere where you aim to have influence), take a look in the mirror and ask yourself: if you were meeting yourself for the first time, what would be your impression? I'm not talking about whether or not you are attractive- because that means very little in leadership- but rather, does the person standing in the mirror make the impression that she is capable, smart, and put together? Or does she seem to be sloppy, disorganized, and lost? Your visual presentation of yourself can either be something that works in your favor, or something you have to fight against throughout your time in leadership. This is especially important for those of us in our 20's and early 30's trying to lead up (leading older, more mature team members). I often hear young leaders complain that the older members i an organization do not take them seriously, but when I see how they present themselves, I have an idea why. People assume that you will lead them in the same way you lead yourself, and your presentation is an indicator of that. If you seem sloppy, lazy or unprepared, you are communicating to others that you will be careless with their time, disorganized in your planning, and forgetful with what you have promised them. However, if even at a young age you can show your team that you are confident, put together, and thorough, they will assume you can get the job done.
Why is this so important? If people are getting the wrong impression of you, you are wasting unnecessary time and energy changing trying to change their minds back towards respecting you. It is so much more efficient to have good presentation, and give a good impression from the beginning! As a manager, I often have to interview young ladies, and consider them for jobs. While I do not consider myself old or uptight, I will admit that I look at their presentations as an indicator of how they work. If you find yourself needing a little help in this area, here are some things your presentation may be saying about you, that you may not have noticed:
1. Showing too much skin
What it says about you: Showing too much skin can mistakenly communicate a lack of etiquette. You may appear superficial, or like you rather people focus on your "sexiness" than your skills, which will cause people to question whether or not you have the skills necessary to get the job done. It may also cause Male co-workers to objectify you.
Alternative: Cover up! Regardless of the weather outside, it is never appropriate to wear shorts, show cleavage, or too much leg in a place where you want the focus to be on your mind, not your body. The rule of them for "business causal" is for skirts and dresses to be only an inch above the knee, and to avoid showing any kind of cleavage, or midriff.
2. Being Overly Trendy
What it says about you: It says to older team members that you still have a lot of growing up to do, and haven't developed the ability to see what it appropriate, which can make you seem frivolous and silly, especially if you are a young leader. They may think your cute, but fail to take you seriously.
Alternative: I definitely support wearing what is in style, and am not going to suggest 25 year olds start dressing like they just hopped off the Mayflower! But I would recommend toning down youthful pieces by mixing them in with more classic pieces, and saving really trendy styles for after work, or anywhere you lead. The office for example, is not the best place for those awesome combat boots, or blue glitter eyeshadow. You want to communicate that you are mature enough not to be shouting for attention with your wardrobe!
3. The "I Woke Up Like Dis"
What it says about you: When you wear overly causal clothes or rock the "I just rolled out of bed" look, it says to others that you are careless, and just going with the flow. It seems as though you lack purpose, vision, and basic time-management skills because you probably woke up late. People think, "this person probably let's things fall through the cracks".
Alternative: Always aim to look polished and put together. The bohemian look looks great on the weekends, but is fit for relaxing, not leading! Keep your hair and your fingernails polished and neat. If you can, throw on some makeup simply because it shows you went the extra mile. These things communicate excellence, and attention to detail.
4. Ill-Fitting or Wrinkled Clothes
What it says about you: Clothes that are ill-fitting or wrinkled communicate a lack of self-awareness. Rather than looking sexy, it tells others that you aren't aware of how things fit you, or that you gained some weight and didn't notice. I the same way, overly loose can look sloppy.
Alternative: Pay attention to the fit of your clothes, even if it means you have to periodically replace them. Clothes that fit well will not only communicate professionalism, but will make you feel more confident, because you are sure nothing is popping out of falling off!
A final thought:
Of course, every setting will have different standards of what is acceptable and what is not. For example, many start-ups or small companies tend to have more casual atmospheres. While these comments are geared towards a typical office or workplace, I hope you take them into account for anywhere that you have leadership or aim to influence others, so you can put your best food forward!