Dress for the influence you want
Have you heard that old adage, “Dress for the job you want and not the job you have”? This advice has merit, and can be also be applied to help you with other goals at work, not just to be considered for a promotion. We can choose to dress consciously and deliberately — to persuade others to accept our ideas, to facilitate a transaction with a client, to be taken seriously at a press conference, or to just hang out with your team members in the trenches on a casual Friday afternoon.
Suppose you are a director of sales, and you really need to influence your IT leadership to warm up to your idea of a new Customer Relationship Management (CRM) System. Having a state of the art CRM system can catapult your team’s success in nurturing customers and locating the right prospects for your business. With that in mind, you are planning to visit the IT area of your corporate headquarters this Friday. Building relationship with the IT leaders and programmers is paramount to getting your idea accepted and worked on. What will it be this Friday: your regular navy suit you don for customer visits, or pair of jeans with polos? You know you need to hang out with the IT crowd for a day. The IT team members are the customers for the day, and they do not care for navy suits. I’d say, go with jeans.
How we dress up helps us create a perception in our colleagues’ mind. Have you noticed that some business managers always wear suits? Why? Because they want to come across as superior and polished all the time. There is value in coming across as superior; that’s the good part. The bad part is by doing so, they also repel team members they might need to stay connected with. If you are an executive and you always dress very formally, people in your company might be intimidated by you. Is that what you want? I wrote in a post describing how I adapted to my team’s request to to relax my own attire on Fridays. I suggest varying your attire to suit your context and your objectives. We tend to remember this guideline in social settings but forget that it applies at work too.
If you own your firm or have a position of high influence in the firm, and want to create a specific culture at the firm, you could align the firm’s dress code with the culture you want to create. Years ago, an organization I worked for had a very casual dress code, which aligned with an informal work culture. The casual dress code meant people were relaxed and did not worry about finding that perfect suit for tomorrow’s meeting. The company had 24×7 round-the-clock operations, and the owners wanted to send a clear message to the front line employees along the lines of “let us worry about serving the customers who call with problems and not about how we look.” On the flip side, having a rigid dress code sends a different signal to our colleagues. It tells everyone from the board of directors to a component supplier that the organization is very structured (and may even be rigid).
Above all, remember that your attire is an often ignored tool in your leadership arsenal. Use it wisely and strategically. Your will be amazed at what it can do for you.