208-376-1701 bryan@bryanyager.com

First a quote: “You have to dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” – Austin Kleon

Many, many years ago, in a place far, far away, I was taught the importance of dressing for success.

In those days, it was common for salespeople to research a prospective client organization before making an initial sales call. It was viewed as important to identify the prevailing “dress codes, norms and practices” of that company prior to visiting for the first time.

Sales professionals were often taught to either match their attire to that of their prospective client, or even target one level above. So, if they were calling on a company where open shirts and sport jackets were the norm for men, it was suggested male salespeople wear at least a tie, if not tie and suitcoat. (Sorry, I don’t pretend to have a clue what that meant for women then, or what it means now.)

Likewise, many career advisers taught a similar approach for people aspiring to climb the corporate ladder. It was suggested people dress to the social norms of those on the next level of the organizational chart. As Austin Kleon suggests, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.”

While I suspect this approach has become somewhat passé in many work environments today, I believe most successful people remain careful about not becoming too lax in their appearance, dress, and/or professional standards. (Perhaps a topic for another day, this also applies to our current “work-from-home-virtual” worlds. If you’re looking for a promotion, attending a virtual team meeting in your pj’s is not likely to help your cause.)

My intended focus today, however, is not about fashion, dress codes, or even dressing for success. I merely intended to use this discussion as a metaphor of sorts. My intended focus is on what many people refer to as Executive Presence. While looking the part may, or may not, carry the weight it once did, behaving to the level of our aspirations still does! Successful people play the part.

Just like people were once advised to dress one level up, I propose people must behave at least one level up. Successful people think and act to the level of their aspirations. They not only look the part, but they also play the part. If a person desires to move up the organizational chart, then their attitude, language, demeanor, and behavior must also reflect a higher level of responsibility, perhaps even a higher level of maturity.

Do you remember your parents telling you to act your age?  Boy, I sure do!  If only I had listened more.

Executive Presence can be difficult to define, or even describe. I have seen it referred to as the “It Factor.” People seem to know it when they see it.

In essence, executive presence is how you show up, it is reflected in how you appear, behave, and communicate.

I offer the following tips and suggestions as a starting point for your consideration:

  • Make a mental shift from “me to we” – you will know you have transitioned into a role of true leadership when you become more concerned about your team’s safety and success than your own. Before people will follow you, they must trust you. They are continuously trying to assess your intentions and motives. Click here to read: Think Influence, Not Rank, Title or Position 
  • Strive for a level of humble confidence – most people desire to follow a competent and confident leader; very few people wish to follow an arrogant leader. Humbleness is not a weakness; its strength is quietly powerful. Click here to read: Humility, A Foundational Quality 
  • Be other-focused – pay attention to others, listen deeply for their unspoken concerns, fears, and aspirations. Listen. Learn. Be ready to help, if only to encourage. 
  • Help people be future focused – Organizations are either vision-led or problem-driven. All organizations have problems. Invite people to focus on solutions that will lead to a better future. Click here to read: Hope in the Future Creates Power in the Present 
  • Talk less, listen more – almost everyone has something to say and most are hoping someone will listen. That person could be you. I have come to believe leaders are judged less by how they speak, and what they say, and more by how they listen. Learn to listen with your eyes! Click here to read: Leaders are Listeners or People Don’t Care…   
  • Use humor appropriately – I am often impressed with leaders who can use humor as an appropriate relief valve in tense situations. I caution against sarcasm when it is used at someone else’s expense. Self-deprecating humor is almost always safest. Click here to read: Humor, an Essential Element of Leadership or How Funny Are You? Really?   
  • Leaders are always on stage, even when they are not on stage. – Know that people are always watching; you might be in your car, at a restaurant, or with your kids, people are watching how you behave when you think no one is looking.

How will you live, love, or lead better this coming week?


Bryan Yager
“Expanding Your Capacity for Success”

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Bonus Quotes:

  • “Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.” – Sheryl Sandberg 
  • “Executive presence is credibility that goes beyond a title.” – Tom Henschel 
  • “Elegance is a question of personality, more than one’s clothing.” – Jean-Paul Gaultier 
  • You can have anything you want in life if you dress for it.” – Edith Head 
  • “Clothes mean nothing until someone lives in them.” – Marc Jacobs 
  • “Style is a way to say who you are without having to speak.” — Rachel Zoe 
  • “Dress how you want to be addressed.” – Bianca Frazier 
  • “Fashion is not necessarily about labels. It’s not about brands. It’s about something else that comes from within you.” – Ralph Lauren 
  • “For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others; for beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone.” – Audrey Hepburn