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If You Want to be a Leader You Need to Look Like a Leader

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By Alan Fairweather with thanks to Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Jenna GoudreauBusinessmen

Think about the last time you met someone for the first time. It could have been in business or your personal life. Were you aware that they made eleven major decisions about you in the first seven seconds of your meeting? And of course, you were probably doing the same with them

This isn’t a conscious thing to do, it’s a program built into your brain to help you survive.

When your ancestors decided to get out of the cave and go for a stroll, they often met some other little caveperson for the first time. And in those days they had to make some fast decisions. This was something hardwired into their brain as a prehistoric survival mechanism. Was this friend or foe, should they strike up a conversation, or just bash them with their club?

Well, you don’t have to do any bashing, but you still make decisions about other people very quickly.

If you’re a leader then you need to look like one

‘Looking like a leader is the first step to becoming one. In order to portray “executive presence ,” superiors must perceive you as having gravitas, excellent communication skills and a polished appearance.’

This is according to Sylvia Ann Hewlett , an economist and the founding president of the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) in New York 

She conducted a year-long study of over 4,000 college-educated professionals and 268 senior executives, conducted by CTI and in partnership with Marie Claire magazine, looking like a leader is the first step to becoming one.

So how do you look the part?

No. 1: Grooming

Appearance is the first thing people see. And they will always make an emotional decision. So a major grooming mistake can instantly undermine your chances of showing just how good you really are.

According to the research, good grooming habits, looking “polished” or “pulled together” is a leader’s most important physical asset.  Women’s professional polish includes tasteful accessories, manicured nails and a hairstyle rather than a haircut. Whereas, a man’s polished look is based on clean nails, shiny shoes, a clean shave and manicured facial hair, according to the report.

No. 2: Posture

Sitting and standing tall is considered the second-most important leadership signifier, no matter what type of office environment you work in. Good posture means planted feet, shoulders back and head straight; that reflects confidence and authority.

No. 3: Physical Attractiveness

Studies show that attractive people are more likely to be viewed as smart, happy, interesting and successful. Among the executives surveyed, 16% said physical attractiveness contributes to a woman’s executive presence and 14% said the same for men. It’s less about being stereotypically pretty and more about consciously highlighting your best attributes and features and taking the time to appear well groomed.

No. 4: Slimness

Being fit may help you climb the ladder; in more ways than one. In the study, 21% of executives said being overweight looks bad for a woman and 17% said it hurts a man. Those numbers more than doubled when it came to obesity (45% and 43%, respectively).

No. 5: Height

While women are judged more critically by their weight, men are more likely to be sized up by their height. Of those surveyed, 16% said it’s important for men to be tall, compared to just 6% for women.

No. 6: Expensive Clothing

Perhaps unsurprisingly, wearing expensive, or at least expensive looking, clothing was rated as more important for those who work in formal business cultures. Executives said that signature accessories such as good shoes or a nice watch, go a long way, but flashy jewelry undermines your appearance. Similarly, they said brand names suggest stature, but too many labels are distracting.

No. 7: Youthful Appearance

Ironically, women are judged for looking too young and for looking too old, but more critically for the latter. Junior women confided that they secretly hoped for a couple gray hairs to look more experienced, and women in focus groups agreed there is only a small window for not looking too old or too young. “If reminding a client of his grandmother or mother can make you seem outdated or tired, reminding a client of his granddaughter or daughter also has pitfalls,” write the researchers.

Whether you like it or not, other people will make initial judgements about your leadership skills based on how you look and how you carry yourself.

Who you are speaks so loudly, I can’t hear what you’re saying

Ralph Waldo Emerson 

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Posted in: Leadership, Management, Motivation

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