Do You Have
The Look Of The Leader?
Will You Acquire It?


Today's LEADERSHIP SUCCESS STRATEGY.
A Dose of Reality About Excellence For
People In Charge, And Those Who Aspire To Be.

(Feel free to forward this to co-workers, friends and family.)  Issue 0322

From Rick Houcek

Saw a TV commercial last week for a popular mid-priced regional restaurant chain who I'll politely allow to remain nameless.

Their repeated use of the word "leader" caught my ear -- it always does -- and quite frankly, enraged me almost beyond ability to speak.

But I calmed down, took a few deep breaths, counted to ten, then pounded my feet on the hardwoods in search of my wife.

Found her in her home office and lashed out a verbal assassination of this restaurant chain -- that we had just frequented not two nights before.

Here's the scene.

Parking lot noticeably littered with trash as we drove in. Lines to separate cars horribly faded, spacing unclear, cars too close, my fear of "dings" elevated.

Upon entering, cigarette butts on ground outside door. Sign says "Please Wait To Be Seated" and we're summarily ignored. For some time. Not even an encouraging "We'll be right with you" yelled from across the room. Nope, we're invisible.

Finally we get seated. Server's first words, spoken with not even the hint of a smile, are: "My shift ends in 30 minutes, so if you leave after I do, would you be sure to tell the manager I was your original server?"

Whoa. Obviously more concerned about losing his tip to his replacement than giving the kind of service that earns one.

That did it. I can handle a modest amount of insolence, mistreatment, and customer disrespect -- given that it's everywhere in retail and restaurants and business and life today -- but this series of events -- all in the space of ten minutes -- just blasted me beyond my max limit of intolerance.

"No," I said, "We're leaving BEFORE you. And we're stopping to tell the manager, who clearly forgot to train you. Doubt you'll see us again."

Yes, I could have used it as a "teachable moment" with the server, and had we stayed, I would have. But since we were leaving, and I had nothing invested in the relationship, I didn't.

We did, however, have that conversation with the manager. Told her all of it.

Now, back to the beginning.

This is the restaurant chain that proclaimed itself "leader" three times in a 60-second commercial.

Sound like a leader to you?

Me either.

A good many things collectively combine to create the "look of the leader".

Most of us are willing to overlook -- though we may not forget -- that first shocking visual or rude statement in the first 10 to 15 seconds, as long as what follows is better or improved or exemplary. Privately, we WANT others to succeed, because let's face it, it's uncomfortable to be present when someone else is struggling horribly.

How you dress is an important opportunity to start things off well.

I've not been a fan of a casual look for business. Casual dress -- especially comfort clothes -- can translate into lax treatment of customers. Not for all, but for some.

My personal practice is, always dress a notch above my clients. Exception: If it's discussed and agreed up-front to be casual (like an offsite business meeting or evening beers at the pub), then okay.

As a speaker, consultant, and coach to entrepreneurs, CEOs, and business leaders, my standard uniform is a suit. On occasion, I'll dress upscale business casual, but seldom less than that. How would I expect to be taken seriously if I didn't? Yes, I'm frequently poked at by clients, often jokingly. ("Hey, Rick, what's with the suit? We're casual around here. Next time, we'll cut off that tie at the door.")

Just remember this rule of thumb... In the history of humankind, when it comes to attire, no one has ever been asked to leave an establishment for being overdressed. Laughed at, maybe. Pointed to, probably. Poked and prodded, sure. But never thrown out.

Second rule of thumb... You'll be amazed at the treatment you'll get when you're dressed well. Especially when it's a notch above everyone else. People take you seriously. Some move out of your way. Let you go first. Say "Yes Sir" and "No Ma'am". (I resist telling them my 20-something son calls me "Yo, dude.")

The car you drive, the jewelry you wear or don't, your personal grooming or lack of it -- all tell a story about you. Is it the story you want told? Is it helping or hindering your cause?

As president of an ad agency years ago, I had a candidate for a key account manager position show up in slacks and Polo shirt. Very styled and pressed, but c'mon, was he kidding? Or just an idiot? This was a key client service position and he knew it. Looked like he was about to tee up on the front nine.

Interview lasted less than five minutes. Yes, I told him why.

His inappropriate appearance shouted "lousy judgment". Didn't have the look of the leader. Or the brains. Not on my business team. (Even if we're casual, dress down AFTER you get the job.)

Filthy parking lots or bathrooms in a restaurant make patrons question the cleanliness of the kitchen, hence the purity of their meal. Not the look of the leader.

Ever walk into a Home Depot or Lowe's? Impressively clean. You could almost eat off the floor. It makes a statement. Same with the service shop of a Mercedes Benz dealership. Technicians who don't keep their bays spic 'n span... they're history.

U.S. Presidents of the past have tried to "go casual" for important meetings. It didn't play in Peoria. When you want to sell a message, look presidential. Nothing less than a suit will do.

There are exceptions if the situation calls for it...

When recovering from illness, Reagan was shown chopping wood in cowboy hat, flannel shirt, and jeans on his ranch. The intended news flash was "I'm healthy, I'm back" and the outfit matched the message. Obama vacationing in Hawaii, in a t-shirt, buying ice cream for his kids. It fits. I've seen presidents speaking to construction workers in a manufacturing plant, wearing a hard hat, no suit coat, tie loosened, and sleeves rolled up. Appropriate, given the setting.

But Jimmy Carter on TV from the White House Oval Office, U.S. flag draped formally in the background, giving his American constituents an important, persuasive, prime time message... in a sweater? Sorry, no sale. Didn't look "in charge."

If your organization has established business casual as an everyday norm -- or just casual Fridays -- okay. You as leader should play too -- just look sharp. But should you stoop lower? To jeans, shorts, or flip-flops? I'd think again.

Are your company materials -- website, brochures, ads, business cards and letterhead, et al -- professional in look and feel? Or do they smack of cheap? Do they have the look of the leader?

I stayed twice at Normandy Farm Conference Center in Philadelphia. Immaculate. Parking lot spotless. Brightly painted lines. Not a hint of debris. Beautiful lobby. Friendly, well-dressed, articulate front desk staff. And the two times I was there were a year apart. Not a coincidence. They attend to detail.

LESSONS & ACTIONS FOR YOU.

This is too important to write off. Ignore it at your peril.

First and foremost, successful leaders LOOK like successful leaders.

There are enough legitimate reasons why any of us might not impress a customer or client enough to make the sale, land the account, or get the assignment. Why guarantee failure before word one exits your mouth, by the way you look?

For leaders who interface with their customers, their vendors and/or their employees -- that pretty much covers 100% of leaders everywhere, doesn't it? -- a personal clothing consultant is a good idea. Invest in one. Find a pro.

I don't want to hear... "times are tough, gotta be frugal with my spending."

Wake up. Successful leaders look like successful leaders. Cut expenses somewhere else to make room for this.

A year ago when this current recession kicked off, there was a huge job fair in Atlanta. To generate excitement and urgency, big banners proclaimed: "Companies who have booths are hiring NOW". On the 7:00 news, the onsite reporter said about 20,000 job hunters showed up.

A rooftop camera showed the long winding line to get in. (From space, it must have looked like the Great Wall of China.)

Many had the good sense to dress in their upscale business best. But what jumped out at me were the dolts in jeans and t-shirts. Were they serious? Don't have a suit or sport coat? For this, you borrow a freakin' suit. Doesn't fit? Use duct tape to hem it. (I've done that.) Do whatever you must to look sharp.

Were I manning a booth, with limited time to find a handful of eagles, and 20,000 screaming hopefuls competing for my attention, decision #1 would be: ignore the idiots who didn't have the brains to dress well for the interview.

How you look is often the first criterion for inclusion or elimination. If fashion's not your thing, watch TV. There are plenty of makeover shows now on, like "What Not To Wear". A myriad of books line the shelves to suit your gender, profession and taste. And tons of info online. Plus personal consultants. So no whining that "I have no style sense" when there's a plethora of information available everywhere.

Now it's time to gaze into the mirror. Be honest -- do you have the look of the leader?

If I spotted you and 25 others across the room, would I likely pick you as the leader?

There's a game I like to play. When at a nice restaurant and there's a table of six or eight or ten dining together, most likely an office group or work team or somehow related in business, I try to guess which one's the leader. My first criterion is, of course, appearance, since it's from a distance and I can seldom hear. Other clues are demeanor, presence, who looks at who, body language. And if I can hear, the content of the words are considered.

I never know if I guess right -- it's my silent game -- but I doubt my criteria are dramatically unlike yours when you're judging leadership credibility, competence or confidence.

We've had lots of remodeling work done at our house the last several years. Used a variety of different small home improvement contractors. None compare to the gentleman we use now, Kris Maltby, who's by far the best. Every day he shows up, his black truck is spotless, dent-free, and shiny -- regardless of weather. He pulls a trailer with a virtual Home Depot inside -- clean, organized, every tool in place from the day before. Always wears a spotless shirt with embroidered company logo -- on polos, tees, and collared work shirts -- along with clean, often-pressed jeans. The first impression is crystal clear: he attends to every minor detail about his appearance, and in turn, I feel confident my job will be done to exacting perfection. (And it always is.) As Kris says, "My truck is my office. If it isn't perfect, what will clients think about my work?" He's figured it out.

The world is watching.

When you walk by, do you think people peg you as a leader?

If you knew they didn't, what changes would you make?

There is profound advantage in having the look of the leader...

Greater respect. More open doors. Introductions to important people. Business growth. Customers choosing you over others. Improved outcomes. Enhanced self-confidence. To name but a few.

Isn't it worth honest self-evaluation and an investment of time and money -- in yourself? Your staff? Your office, plant, or store? Your marketing materials? Your vehicles? The works?

Helping Ambitious Forward-Thinkers Soar To Success...

Rick Houcek, President
Soar With Eagles, Inc.




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