Articles // June 21,2022

How Does Appearance and Attitude Impact Leadership?

By Meenakshi Girish , Editor – Swetha Sitaraman

Karthik always considered himself to be someone who had a realistic attitude. He saw people for who they were and didn’t bother to try and dig deeper into their potential. He focused on getting his responsibilities done and didn’t bother to help anyone else. All he cared about was his place in the organisation and whether he was growing and proving himself.

This affected the way Karthik’s peers and team interacted with him. They never showed him their true colours. They were always trying to outperform him or were afraid to miss deadlines in case he called them out. He always looked angry and so people did not find him approachable. As there was no encouragement for going the extra mile, the team tried to complete their basic tasks before turning to anything else.

Karthik is now branded as someone with an ‘attitude problem’. But he does wish to change.

What can Karthik do?

Let’s face it. Everybody judges. It is interesting to note that most judgements made on the first meeting about a person are mostly true. They say that first impressions make the best impressions, so having a good appearance and attitude can go a long way. People think well-groomed people are disciplined and are serious about their work. They will put as much care into their work as they do to groom themselves.

While Karthik may have a healthy physique, he lacks a healthy mindset. This makes it evident that a good attitude and appearance go hand in hand. A person needs to groom themselves both mentally and physically to attract the right people. Read on to know what Karthik can do to break out of the ideas people have set about him and become a better leader.

How do height and looks contribute to leadership?

People unconsciously tend to use a person’s height and facial cues to determine their leadership qualities. For example, a person with broad shoulders can be assumed to support the team and offer guidance whenever needed. On the other hand, if you slouch your shoulders, people will think you lack confidence.

People with wide faces are considered to be more aggressive and dominating. Tall people are more effective at having the upper hand and can lead teams better. Women are better at empathising with the team and imparting emotional intelligence, and so on. While these beliefs may be true for some people, they are not universal and does not apply to everyone with the same features.

A study – Consider this scenario. A group of people hear a variety of success stories about a successful leader. It is not revealed if the leader is a man or woman. It is also not revealed what their skin tone is or what their race and background are. The group is then shown three photos – one of a white man, one of a black man, and one of a woman.

They are asked to identify who among the three could be the leader. It is most likely that people will pick the white man owing to the opportunities he would have over the other two. In reality, the leader could very well be the woman, who is a prominent leader in the industry. This might be surprising to many people, as their preconceived notions didn’t expect a woman to use her resources and opportunities to navigate the corporate world.

What we understand here is that people have biases of their own and they come into play when exposed to new things. What a person judges another to be speaks more about the person judging than the one being judged.

The Halo Effect – Redefining the art of judgement

An interesting phenomenon to consider here is the ‘halo effect’ which people can use to their advantage. Imagine seeing a random person helping a wounded dog on the road. You would immediately conclude that they must be a kind person who helps others in need. In reality, this might have been the first and last time the person ever helped anyone, and they are sadistic.

Take this concept to the boardroom and you will notice leadership traits forming by this conception. If you see someone wooing a prospect with a good presence of mind or notice how someone navigated a difficult question, your perception of their potential will automatically change. In short, by seeing one instance of a person’s attitude, you begin to gauge their personality in other areas as well.

Karthik could use this to his advantage temporarily, but in the long run he will have to work on making permanent changes to his attitude. He must develop traits like empathy and work on his communication. He could create a favourable position for himself by appreciating and conveying positive messages to his team. We are all performers at the end of the day – if we know people are watching and noticing, we tend to perform better.

Facial expressions

Imagine I showed you ten different photos of leaders from around the globe. Each of them has a different facial expression – happy, confused, sad, angry, expressionless, etc. How would you determine their nature in real life? Are they friendly? Strong? Trustworthy? Short-tempered? Dominating? Shy and afraid?

Chances are that if someone had a smile on their face, you would conclude they are friendly and approachable. If they welcome people with a smile and have a positive mindset, you would think they are trustworthy and have good conduct. If Karthik smiled more or even had a neutral face instead of looking scornful all the time, people would find him more approachable. If he had his head high and turned his nose up at any interaction, people would mistake him for being cocky and self-centred.

It’s all in the eyes

Ever noticed someone with a carefree attitude but they have bloodshot eyes? What do you think of them? The eyes are doorways to the soul, and you can get a lot of cognitive clues by noticing someone’s eyes. For example, people with sunken eyes are generally considered suspicious. People with dark circles are instantly considered to be sleep deprived. Some people consider this as a good sign, as it indicates that the person is dedicated to their work. Others consider it a negative trait, as the person is unsatisfied with their life and are finding it difficult to sleep at night. The lack of sleep might make them unfocused and distracted.

Karthik must ensure that he looks at people’s eyes then he speaks. This shows that he is respecting the individual by listening intently. He must ensure he sleeps well and takes care of himself, so he can give his 100% to his work and team.

Dressing the part

How can we speak about appearance without considering the way attire affects people’s perceptions? It is vital to dress formally or informally as per the dress code to be respected by your peers. A person who does not care much about their outfit and is shabbily dressed and with unkempt hair might be considered undisciplined. Likewise, someone who wears their buttons up to the collar might be considered a stickler for discipline and someone who meets deadlines.

Imagine you walk into a sales meeting and there are three people present. One is a man with his shirt untucked and hair sticking out. One is a woman with a formal shirt and skirt with neat hair and makeup. The third is a man wearing semi-formal clothes who is sitting with his legs up on a chair. Who would you think is the person in authority who is capable of making decisions and leading the team?

Chances are, you picked the woman owing to the way she put herself together and the demeanour she maintained while welcoming you. This is why attire and the way you carry yourself can impact leadership. Be aware of the policies in place – you don’t want to arrive at work wearing jeans if your dress code is formal or wear a suit when the dress code is casual.

What have we learnt?

Appearance and attitude have a lot to do with leadership and how a person is perceived. Just like how a doctor can diagnose a patient by looking at their eyes and tongue, anyone can gauge your intellect by looking at your appearance. We may not have control over our height or features but we do have control over our attitudes and how we treat people around us.

All Karthik has to do to win people’s trust is to display his positive qualities during one instance and build from there. For example, he can utilise the next board meeting to gain his peers’ trust. When his teammate is asked a difficult question, he can politely answer the question and divert the focus to himself. Call this ‘taking one for the team’, but it helps!

Trust and accountability are gradual processes – they are hard to build but easy to break. Appearance and attitude can impact leadership in many ways. If you wish to change your demeanour and attitude to create a better first impression, begin your transformation by clicking here.

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