Does Your Appearance Affect Your Executive Presence?

Does Your Appearance Affect Your Executive Presence?

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Let’s say you’ve been excited about hearing one of the prominent leaders in your industry speak.

You know he’s an expert in his field, and you appreciate his charismatic, approachable style. 

But when you walk into the lecture hall, you wonder who is sitting on the stage in front of you. He’s dressed in jeans and a hoodie, and it doesn’t look like he’s had a haircut in several months. 

You feel snobby and judgmental, but your estimation of the speaker decreases when you see his appearance. 

Whether we like it or not, appearance plays a role in how we’re perceived. 

Judith Rasband at the Institute for Image Management explains the importance of dressing and grooming yourself in certain ways. She describes the “image cycle.” First, how we look affects how we think and act. Next, how we think and act influences how others perceive us. Finally, how others perceive and respond to us influences our self-image. 

“When you appear attractively dressed and groomed, personally authentic, and appropriate for the occasion, you create a positive impression, and others are more able to perceive your positive traits and regard you more favorably,” she argues. 

Certainly, then appearance influences your executive presence or the authority and respect you have as a leader in your organization. 

Of course, appearance isn’t just what you wear and how you look. It’s also how you carry yourself. 

Vox Impact consultants include appearance as one of the five dimensions that make up executive presence. These include, in their words:

1. What do you stand for 

2. How you show up – including body language and appearance 

3. How you connect with others

4. How you communicate 

5. Being present

Consultant Maria Wilhelmsson offers more detail about the relationship between your self-presentation and executive presence. 

“If your body language is not aligned with what you say, others are less likely to believe you and be convinced by you. How you show up is particularly important for the first impression, but not only then. People around will always be checking for visual cues to determine your current emotional state or level of confidence,” she says. 

Of course, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all to looking or acting like an executive, just like there isn’t a singular definition of executive presence. But in this article, we’ll talk about why finding an authentic way to present yourself that conveys your authority and expertise is so important.


❓ What is executive presence?

In a recent webinar for Ivy Exec, Cesar Salas and Milton N. Green, Jr. defined executive presence. 

“It could be a combination of many traits – speech, look, way of helping others, but all those traits can be summarized as – Executive Presence and Influential Leadership. When you have executive presence, you exude poise, confidence, and overall respect,” they note. 

In other words, executive presence gets you taken seriously in your industry. Without it, you may find your ideas undermined, your leadership questioned, or your authority slipping.


✅ Specific Aspects of Appearance Influencing Executive Presence

In her book Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success, Sylvia Ann Hewlett lists three dimensions of executive presence: appearance, communication, and gravitas. According to Hewlett, the least important of these is appearance, but it certainly still plays a role, especially in creating first impressions. 

Hewlett suggests there are elements of appearance you can control and some that are, unfortunately, fairly fixed. After surveying individuals about executive presence, she found that the most important aspect was being well groomed (important to 35 percent of survey respondents). Another controllable aspect was wearing “simple, stylish clothes” (12 percent). 

However, respondents also appreciated aspects that are beyond our control for the most part, like physical attractiveness (19 percent), height (six percent), and “being youthful and vigorous” (six percent.). 

“If you think about missed job opportunities or promotions, your appearance is one of three dimensions of Executive Presence you should consider examining so you can signal your confidence, good judgment, and control,” suggested coach Gina Riley.

So, what should you do if you feel you’re lacking in one of these elements? Here are some tips: 

  • Buy clothes that are simpler and more refined than the ones you typically wear to work 
  • See what other people at your organization wear and aim to wear clothes that fit those parameters
  • Get more regular haircuts
  • Take more time to style your hair and put on makeup
  • Focus on your wellness and health, as being physically fit contributes to perceptions of attractiveness 
  • Make more consistent eye contact with your team 
  • Avoid crossing your arms or otherwise closing yourself off so you convey a more welcoming presence 


☑️ The Relationship Between Appearance and Executive Presence

For better or worse, there is a clear correlation between what you look like, how you carry yourself, and your effectiveness as a leader.

This doesn’t mean that you have to stuff yourself into clothes and a personality that doesn’t fit. However, it will help you to understand what’s expected in your industry and adopt the elements of appearance that feel authentic. 

Of course, you can control some elements of your appearance that boost your executive presence but not all of them. While you’re not able to make yourself grow a few inches, you can wear simple, stylish clothing. What’s more, you have control of your body language and can adopt habits that make you seem more approachable. 

Want more ways to boost your executive presence? Read our guide “How to Exude Executive Presence Like the Born Leader You Are.”

Alicia Bones
About the Author
Alicia Bones

Alicia Bones is a freelance writer and community college professor in Seattle.

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