After a few decades in business, I can make this observation with confidence: how we present ourselves to the world matters, a lot. Presence, presentation, and how a person carries themselves is as important as competence for predicting who will rise in their careers and who will stagnate.
Since most want to advance their careers, why do so many fail to take basic, critical steps to help themselves? Maybe people want to believe that job performance is what really matters. Maybe those people have a strong case that it should be what matters. But that’s not the world we live in. All my experience tells me that perceptions count as much as reality, and truly successful professionals will manage both – their substantive performance and their image.
This is a basic part of human psychology. We trust people who seem confident. If we had to stop, collect objective evidence, and analyze the performance of every person we came across professionally, it would be pretty hard to get things done. Instead, we all make intuitive judgements about the people we meet, and those snap judgements help us function efficiently on a day-to-day basis.
The easiest and most direct way that we can influence people’s snap judgements is to always look the part. Dress the way you think a successful person in your field would dress and people start to perceive you as a successful person in your field. It really is that simple.
I’m not saying everybody needs to dress in expensive designer clothes. Decent quality (and role-appropriate) clothes that fit well go a long way. Anybody who thinks appearance does not matter in their role, industry, or organization is fooling himself. Young entrepreneurs are often guilty of this error, although it can apply to anybody.
Everybody needs to wake up and recognize what other humans subconsciously look for in leaders. Looking the part, and carry yourself with confidence are critical parts of getting ahead. So if you’ve been wondering why your advancement has stalled, you might consider looking for some easy investments in your personal presentation. They might be the highest-return investments you ever make.