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The Executive Coaching Corner:  Executive Presence Series

November 6, 2014  Blog Series 7 of 9:  Executive Presence:  Maintaining a Professional Appearance


The third universal component of executive presence identified in CTIís research was appearance. Although they found that appearance was inconsequential to executive presence, as I mentioned earlier, we need to look at that finding more deeply.

Nothing replaces good grooming. The last thing you want to do is look like an unmade bed, or that you just rolled out of one! Clean and manicured nails are a must. In most work places, polish is fine as long itís not distracting with designs and glitter. Collars and cuffs should be pressed and non-frayed. Once they become frayed, replace the shirt. Additionally, your clothes should be stain and wrinkle-free. Iíd be willing to wager that none of this is news to you, but as I mentioned before, you know what to do, but you may not be doing what you know. In this case, perhaps appearance isnít important to you, or you donít think itís important to others. You couldnít be any more wrong.

Even though CTIís research revealed that appearance wasnít as important as gravitas and communication, the reality is that a poor image acts a barrier to entry. What do I mean by that? Unless youíre well groomed and maintain a professional appearance, no one will even let you in the door to listen to you. You simply wonít be taken seriously.

You need to present an image thatís well groomed, polished, and healthy. Anything less sends a subtle or not-so-subtle message, that if youíre sloppy with yourself, true or not, youíll also be sloppy with your work and thus canít be trusted.

While how youíre groomed and the type clothing you choose are clear barriers to entry, body type and height are not barriers in and of themselves. CTIís research revealed that itís more about what you do with what youíve got that matters. This is good news, because it means that the bodies weíre born with wonít hold us back, and we can acquire the knowledge to learn how to look our best. Ill-fitting, tight clothes that pull at the seams are real distractions and should be left in the closet until weight is normalized or discarded for clothes that fit. There are many options for plus-size women as well as big and tall men that enable them to look professional and appropriate. The investment will pay for itself in the long run.

 A question often comes up about how much make-up a woman should wear at work. A research a study conducted by Nancy Etcoff, et. al. (2011) at Harvard Medical School provided some surprising information. Researchers showed study participants photos of several different women. Each of these women had a set of four photos, with the only difference being the degree of make-up applied. Thus, the first photo was No Make-up; the second was Minimal; the third was Moderate; and the fourth was Dramatic. The study participants were shown these by either flashing the photos for 250 milliseconds or allowing them to view the photos for a period of time. The subjects were then asked to rate the photos on how attractive, competent, trustworthy, and likeable they judged the women in the photos to be. The research showed that whether the subjects viewed the photo in milliseconds or longer periods of time, the results were the same. The photos of the women who wore the dramatic version of make-up were consistently rated highest on all qualities except trustworthiness. For trustworthiness, moderate was selected. The implication may be that although dramatic makeup gets high marks, itís hard to fully trust a glamour girl. It also implies that a visit to the cosmetic counter is probably a good investment for women.

Finally, facial attractiveness for men or women deserves a mention. You may have read research which indicated that good looking people are hired more frequently. While that may be the case in hiring, itís not the case for executive presence according to CTIís research. Instead, if someone is too good looking, that quality can be viewed as a distraction.

 Stay tuned:  In the next issue, Iíll cover developing and delivering presentations

For additional one to two-minute sessions on other topics,  go to the Executive Coaching Corner Archive.