How to Dress for More Effective Leadership


As they say, clothes don’t make the man but they do make a difference. Of course, there is the argument that clothes do make the man because naked people have little influence in our society. Quite frankly, clothes are the least important part of your physical presence, but they are part of it. Fortunately, they are the easiest to do something about.

A basic objective when you view clothes is to “wear your performance.” That’s why people dress extra spiffy for job interviews. If you do well, you should look like you do. Business, as all of life, is based on perception. If you look like a leader in your dress and demeanor even before you are, people will perceive you as such sooner.

The acceptance of business casual dress does not mean it’s acceptable to be casual in comportment.

“Leaders reflect a confidence and it shows in their faces, the way they walk and the way they dress,” says Ted Wright, CEO, The Aslan Group. “They usually understand the ‘costume thing.’ To say all leaders are great dressers would be incorrect, but they do look like they are naturally fitted into the gear they are wearing for whatever and wherever the event or forum. They can be tall or short, slim or round, yet they are 95 percent of the time in tune with the ‘what’ that they are communicating by what they wear and how they wear it. Leaders look like they are in charge, as a rule. If you care about the little things such as what you wear, you probably care about a lot of other little and big things as well. A leader usually looks imposing. Even Gandhi in his special way commanded the attention by the way he dressed.”

To make the clothes issue simpler:

Select a dominant color: black, navy, tan, gray, brown, and buy the best quality and style that you can in that color in every piece of clothing and accessory. You get your wardrobe pulled together quicker and can travel easier with one color. Consistency in dress implies consistency in behavior. You can keep one color from being boring with your selection of ties, shirts, jewelry, scarves, and so on.

Rotate the old out. Just as you adopt new business trends, adopt (within reason) fashion changes. For example, if ties/lapels are narrow, go with narrow; don’t stay with wide. You don’t have to be on the cutting edge, but you don’t want to look dated either. One CEO I know buys a new pair of shoes and immediately gives away an old pair. He does the same with shirts, jackets, slacks, and so on. Nothing new goes into his closet without something old coming out.

Unless everything fits perfectly, regularly have your clothes tailored to fit you. If you gain or lose weight, it’s cheaper than a new wardrobe – and it’s a necessity for your appearance.

You should dress the way you want those around you to dress, since subordinates will tend to emulate the leader’s attire. Then turn it up a notch, making your dress just a hair better to meet the image people have of a leader.

When attending a special event, research the expected dress in advance. Find out what’s typical, and choose your attire accordingly. Dressy clothes aren’t just for special occasions but to make an occasion special. Even if you are simply presenting a plaque at lunch with three colleagues, your attire should still befit the accomplishment.

If casual is the norm at your office, keep a “dress up” outfit stored there for emergency situations. Have a complete “might need” outfit set aside and marked for your administrative assistant or significant other to ship overnight to any location when needed.

A final word on clothes: It’s more important how you wear them than what you wear. Standing tall and straight makes any type of clothes look better because they hang better on your body.

Despite my emphasis on being aware of your own attire, don’t be judgmental toward others. Don’t give the suited person preference, respect, or attention over the casually dressed person. Both get the same treatment as in everything in this book. Besides, you never know who has the most influence in what you’re trying to do.

Ready to be a more effective leader?