I have dedicated many years in Silicon Valley to figuring out the best ways of translating leadership competency into style. Admittedly, choosing to do this in Silicon Valley has been a challenging path. Silicon Valley sees – or it wants to see – leadership without obvious hierarchies. In typical hierarchical structures, the top brass dresses up more. So, in this case, for better or for worse, there’s nothing typical about Silicon Valley.
Since Silicon Valley tends to flatten obvious hierarchies, good style in the workplace is an overlooked issue. Now we see this coast to coast and in points between. Still, there are key reasons why it is important that leaders demonstrate their ability to do something well. So, that’s why I focus on translating leadership competency into style with executives and entrepreneurs.
A controversial and important point of discussion is how gender impacts the way leaders show up. Like it or not, people do pay more attention to what female leaders wear than their male counterparts. It’s not that people don’t pay attention to what males wear. I can think of no better examples than Steve Jobs’ black mock turtleneck knits, or Mark Zuckerberg’s hoodies. Clearly, these are not stylish wardrobe statements. Can we name one piece of clothing that best associates with Sheryl Sandberg? No, we cannot. And this is because her style is not disruptive. Ultimately, though, she translates her leadership competency through style and substance.
That said, women in [and not in] leadership are unfairly judged about their appearance. My advocacy for translating leadership competency into style is not about furthering the judgment of women. Everyone has a style, even when it lurks deep inside, awaiting discovery. So, I take a gender neutral position on equating competency and style. It’s for everyone to do, and everyone stands to benefit.
Leaders focus on how their education and credentials form their success. This is as it should be. But, leaders who ignore their style don’t consider how matching personal style to their substance enhances their effectiveness. In fact, they see style as fluff. Or, they see style as distracting. What is inside matters most. So, that is why I show leaders how to style themselves to honor their core substance.
Conveying competency through style nonverbally demonstrates leaders’ strengths. There is a method to communicating strengths through style. Once leaders experience it, they report that they are more successful as a result. However, it is not formulaic, and one solution does not work for everyone. Different strengths and personality traits demand a variety of clothing options.
On top of a leader’s personality, s/he has to consider many factors on a day-to-day basis. For instance, I suggest adjusting the formality to look more relatable when traveling. It may be downright laid-back in Silicon Valley. But, travel to Europe or Japan, and the expectations are much different. Different cultures dictate codes that often vary from home base.
In addition, the climate and weather forecast are factors in choosing what to wear. Leaders have to look relevant with respect to the environment. If the weather is hot and sunny, it would be a poor choice to show up in something wintery.
Another variable to think about is who a leader meets with. Where will the interactions will take place? What is the setting? What is the desired outcome, or the point of people interfacing with the person in the leadership capacity? Is the point to inspire, to act, to reassure, or to inform?
I can imagine how reading this post leaves you wanting more. There must be an actual answer that you can apply that translates your leadership competency into style. It’s frustrating for me to leave you with many questions, and few answers. In fact, this post has been the toughest one to write in ages. I feel your frustration! Believe me, when it comes to translating leadership competency into style, I want you to have the tools to reach new levels of success.
However, the blueprint laid out here is its own valuable tool. If you follow these ideas, you could make great progress all on your own. There is much to gain by aligning your leadership competency with your personal style. So, it’s worth doing. If you find yourself overwhelmed while trying it on your own, guidance from an expert could be an excellent investment.