Leaders of men and women come in many guises, from successful business people like Richard Branson and Sheryl Sandberg, to spiritual and political leaders like Gandhi or Martin Luther King. One thing effective leaders have in common is presence and by learning how to maximise yours, you will be developing an essential vital non-verbal communication skill that will ensure you look like a leader. The art of communication is surely one of the most vital skills of any leader, the power to persuade and appearance plays and important role in that process. In this very visual world, we are all influenced by what we see and so our appearance needs to match what’s on the inside – our abilities, characteristics and values. Otherwise, we get mixed messages. The ability to manage our image is a positive communication skill and something we can easily learn like any other for career success.
First and foremost, you have to make an impact. Effective leaders will almost always have ‘presence’ or that indefinable X factor. They will either give an impression of quiet authority or of obvious power, according to their personal style. Your posture, demeanour and the way you interact with people – as well as appearance – will all contribute to your personal presence. It has often been described that leaders ‘take up space’ and are comfortable doing so. They stand, move and dress confidently and assertively. Good leaders will be well aware of the subliminal messages of non-verbal communication, including image and your body language, and will use these tricks effectively. Leaders also make the rules rather than follow them and have the confidence to dress to reflect their personality and business. Think of Sir John Harvey-Jones with his natty suits and flamboyant socks, Richard Branson’s early years in his approachable knitwear or Anita Roddick’s style echoing her individuality and ethical interests. Each of these leaders has a very distinctive personal image. You need to develop your personal style to suit your style of leadership. Whatever look you choose, you must be true to your personality and remain individual to ensure you’re memorable.
Feel the quality
And, whether you believe money is the measure of success or not, when it comes to appearance, quality counts. That doesn’t mean you have to buy the most expensive items you can find – it’s about seeking clothes and accessories where the quality of the material and craftsmanship is evident. A perfectly fitting lightweight wool suit, an immaculate silk tie or a beautifully stitched handbag in softest leather – they all breathe quality. Too often in corporate life, an individual’s impact is marred by the inclusion of an item that jars. A smart tailored suit and crisp shirt can be undermined by teaming them with a cheap plastic watch and biro. It gives out a message of poor judgement, poor quality and a sloppy approach to work. The subliminal message you want people to pick up from your appearance is ‘here is someone who knows what they are doing, where they are going, with sound judgement and an eye for quality and detail’.
Another aspect of effective leadership is taking your duty as a role model seriously. Individuals leading their own businesses can obviously make the rules, but should remember that they are role models for those following them up the career ladder and so should set the standard for the company. Giving clear messages to your employees about how you expect them to dress at work will make them feel far more comfortable than a confusing ‘anything goes’ atmosphere. Make it clear to your staff or team just what you expect of them – and avoid vague terms than can be misinterpreted. The current trend towards a ‘modern professional’ dress code, where an employee is expected to make judgements about what look each day’s activities require, is a good test of their business acumen. Judging when to opt for ‘formal business’, knowing when ‘relaxed business’ will do or when ‘business casual’ is the order of the day takes perception – and that’s a valuable skill to have on your team. You will want your staff and clients to have absolute faith in you and your ability to make good decisions, so a good leader will need to earn respect. Your clothes can play their part – err on the side of formality or, if the culture in which you work demands a business casual approach, keep it smart and co-ordinated and of good quality. And, of course, your clothes need to match the culture and values of your organisation. For example, in a young, innovative company, you’ll need to be more casual and keep a closer eye on fashion trends. Knowledge of colour will also be valuable to know how to look more authoritative when you need to. This is especially true when selecting business casual items as they are often more colourful and require good co-ordination. There will also be occasions when you need to project more approachability and subtle changes in the way you wear colour can help achieve this.
Lyn Bromley MFIPI, ACMA – Managing Director, First Impressions Lyn Bromley is Managing Director of First Impressions Training Ltd and a Master of The Federation of Image Professionals International. (FIPI) She is also Director of Regional Events for FIPI and a leader of Achiever’s Academy for Women. Please contact us if you would like to know more about our programmes, bespoke image training or one-to-one coaching. First Impressions have a network of over 150 consultants working across the UK – to find one in your area visit the website and take a look at the consultant map. Telephone: +44 (0)1926 623038 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.firstimpressions.uk.com