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Dress as Though You Mean Business

Could casual Friday be undermining your leadership ability?

One of the cool things about working in a home office is that you can do business in torn jeans and a T-shirt because no one sees you but the dog. And Sparky believes in you no matter what you wear. Some people in traditional workplaces, though, are getting so casual in how they dress for work it can have a negative impact on their leadership ability.

It is a fact: people judge books by their covers. Tied to that, I believe we teach people how to treat us by what they see when they see us coming. So when someone shows up for work in sloppy, tired, unprofessional clothes, that teaches me to question what he has to say. Is that fair? No. But does it really happen? Yes. Can what a person wears influence his or her success in business? Yes!

For centuries clothes have been symbols of status, credibility and education. Some people want to brush these aside as irrelevant in the 21st Century. But there's a reason priests wear collars, royalty wears robes, and Donald Trump wears suits. These symbols send us information about dedication, experience, and position. Even credibility is impacted by clothing.

You can see it in TV news. Since all stations usually have the same stories, their chief commodity is credibility. If a newscaster or reporter doesn't look credible to you, you'll change the channel and get your news from a different supplier. The same dynamic happens when you have new ideas to share with your stockholders, bosses, and customers. People want you to dress the part of a trustworthy, intelligent business person. When I'm hired as a consultant or a speaker, I wear a suit, even if the meeting is at a golf resort. A suit on a businessman says he means business.

If you find your ideas are dismissed as childish, maybe you'd better look in the mirror to see whether you're dressed for the office -- or the playground. Don't let casual Friday backfire on you.

Doug Smart is the author of Sell Smarter. He is a management development consultant, professional speaker, and host of the daily motivational radio show, "Smarter by the Minute." For more information, email

Copyright 2005 by Doug Smart

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