Image vs. Hard Work

Now that the election is over, I can publish this post. Before today it would have been too easy to interpret it as an electioneering post — not that I didn’t have my opinions, and not that I wasn’t sharing them, but this one isn’t actually about the vote, it’s about a lesson embedded in the discussion.

I liked Image vs. Hard Work last week on MommyCEO. The trigger was the political discussion of Sarah Palin’s wardrobe, but Sabrina makes a business-related point. This is good to consider:

Without getting into the political side of things and discussing whether that sort of spending is appropriate in any campaign, let’s discuss the idea of image in the workplace and whether the right clothes, the right accessories, and the right hair and makeup really do lead to better careers. Nataly from Work It Mom has a great post on this topic. She reminds women that, unfortunately, appearance matters. It is not all about hard work and smarts. Unfortunately image plays a big part in your potential success.

I tend to agree – to a point. I think it is important to understand that people judge. They always have and always will. If you don’t look professional, people will judge you. That being said — I think that you also have to embrace who you are, what your company does, and where you come from. Think about Mario Batali and his trademark orange Crocs. If you are running a high-tech company, vs. a financial-services company, your wardrobe will be different. As the CEO of a high-tech company, I know that I can get away with being a little less formal – in certain situations.

As a man who used to wear bell-bottoms, and who once had hair down below the shoulders, who has always hated the proverbial coat and tie, I know what she means. It’s silly to fight it. Clothes aren’t important, but if you try to make that statement by dressing down in business situations, you make them more important, not less.

I think I learned a good lesson from Bruce Stuart, of ChannelCorp, who shared the podium with me in a lot of computer channel partner meetings. They were usually held at resorts because that would increase attendance by channel partners, who were independent business owners selling the computers our clients manufactured. Bruce would always put on a white shirt and a dark suit to present. His audience was always dressed in shorts and sandals and t-shirts.

Bruce pointed out to me that we were the show, not the audience. And we talked about serious things like finance and planning. So we wore the suits.

And then there was the time I was heading off for a Silicon Valley business meeting, getting ready to drive to the airport near my home in Eugene, Oregon, to fly to San Francisco. My team members, picking me up to drive to the airport, sent me back into the house to change out of a suit and into my khaki pants and blue shirt. Times had changed, context had changed.

When dressing for somebody else works better, it’s easy to do. Express yourself some other way.


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