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How does image influence leadership?

Rowena (Ro) Crosbie is the president of Tero International Inc. This is the last in a series on leadership entitled “The Cover Matters.” 

To judge content, whether found in the pages of a book or in the character of a person, we must assign the powerful thinking center of our brain to the task. 

In the case of the book, that occurs when we find the cover engaging enough to open the book and then choose to explore the content. 

In the case of the individual, it occurs when we find our perceptions of the person favorable enough to ask questions, listen, and engage in a healthy interpersonal exchange.  Alas, in an increasingly busy existence we rely more heavily, not less, on shortcuts and first impressions.

Harvard says we form an impression in two seconds, hardly enough time for someone to gauge your competence and capabilities.  What are they forming that impression on?

Ample research shows that people size you up very quickly and make inferences about your competence based on visual qualities such as your height, weight, age, skin color, gender, etc.  The things on this list are not easily changed or influenced yet they have a large impact on how you are perceived by others.

Consider research that reveals:

  • We perceive tall people to be more credible than short people. 
  • We perceive men to be more capable in crisis (particularly a physical crisis) than women. 

There is good news. Your grooming and attire also make a powerful first impression and are completely within your control. Becky Rupiper-Greene_edited-2 

Let’s ask an expert to weigh in with advice.  Becky Rupiper-Greene is Senior Training and Image Consultant for Tero International.  Leaders from diverse industries and geographies look to Becky to help them sharpen their professional images to ensure that a visual misstep doesn’t lead to a career misstep. 

Question:  Shouldn’t business leaders be able to wear whatever they want without being judged on appearance?

Becky says:  Absolutely.  Research continues to clearly indicate, however, that both men and women are judged by their appearance. We’ve all seen talented professionals lose out on a promotion to a seemingly less qualified individual who exudes executive presence – from entry level to C-suite positions. What I have found to be much more effective than focusing on what we should wear and what we should not wear, is to instead commit to looking like an expert in your industry. That will, of course, look completely different for someone working at a creative marketing firm compared to someone at a conservative financial institution.  When you look like an expert at what you do, you will visually command and convey respect.

Question:  Do you believe that women are judged more critically than men on their appearance?

Becky says:  The question itself indicates that we are aware of the unfair reality. Sadly, research done by the Center for Talent Innovation also shows that not only are women judged more harshly, women actually judge other women more harshly on appearance faux pas such as tight clothing.  

We perceive ourselves in our best light. We judge ourselves by our good intentions. Others can’t see our good intentions. They first see the visual image we broadcast to the world and that plays a huge role in how they judge us. Is your visual presence communicating positively for you?  

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