How to … ‘clothe’ your inner leadership potential

by 18 Sep 2007

Hemlines, hair-dos and heels: when it comes to corporate wardrobes, it seems as though everyone has an opinion.

Women are constantly being told what to wear and how to wear it. For men, both the choices (of what to wear) and the demands (of looking good) seem less intense.

Too often women take their cue from other people’s expectations: the latest fashion trends, what their peers wear, or worse, hints from male colleagues.

The bottom line is you don’t need someone else – including this article – to tell you how to dress for work. Instead, the key lies in a hearty analysis of your own inner leadership strength. By knowing your leadership voice, style and ambitions, you’ll have a trusty guide for everything from what to wear to how to negotiate that major contract.

This analysis involves a consideration of how you sit within three key parameters: your body, your environment and your position.

Your body ABC: attitude, build, composure

The first step is to reflect on how you see yourself –as a worker, a person, a woman? This is your over-arching attitude. Are you a quiet achiever? A keen networker? Do you thrive on structure and deadlines? Or are you an innovator? Further, does your current attitude reflect who you want to be and how you want others to see you?

The ‘B’– your build. This may seem easy to reflect on, but many women find this step the most challenging. While you may be able to make a few changes (remember that New Year’s resolution to lose four kilos?), for the most part you’re stuck with the build life has dished out. The key is to know your dimensions and how they can work for you.

Your composure is in many ways the expression of your attitude and your build. It’s how you hold and present yourself to both yourself and others. Which part of your body do you put forth when you make a stand? Is your spine straight with confidence?

Your environment

Where you work is more than just the floor space. What kinds of third parties do you pay visits to? Are you required to attend events? Do you ever work outdoors or in warehouse-type environments?

While we don’t advocate taking your cue simply from others, it’s nonetheless important to consider any workplace dress codes.

Your environment may feel circumstantial, but think of it as the playing field of your workplace negotiations, big and small.

Your position

Now take stock of both your current and aspiring workplace position. Where are you and where do you want to be in 12 months’ or five years’ time? If the variance between reality and aspirations is large, ask yourself: Am I presenting the right leadership message?

In the mix

Once you start to identify the elements of this analysis, how you present yourself will become picture perfect. You’ll start to see how many successful women get away with what may seem impossible attire for anyone else.

Beyond what to wear, this analysis is a key step on the path of finding your leadership style. As you get your presentation right, it will rapidly sing the praises of your leadership voice for all to hear.

By Di Pierce, facilitator and program manager, Australian Women & Leadership Forum.