19 May, 2009

Business success and ironing boards

Every evening when my father came home, the first things he would do were to undress in the kitchen, press his uniform (he was a soldier), hang it up properly, and then clean and polish his boots. I remember him standing in his boxers and shirt in the kitchen, ironing his trousers, and telling us that a clean and tidy appearance was essential for respect - of oneself and by other people. It didn’t matter how expensive or cheap your clothes were, if you looked scruffy. As a manager and as a mentor, I’ve passed on the same advice many times:
  • Keep yourself clean and well-groomed - no body odour, no bad breath, no dirty nails, no unkempt hair and no rat’s-nest beard. Use deodorant and breath freshener if you have problems (or been out on the town the night before). Display your designer stubble only on your own time (and even then, only if you have the good looks to carry it off).
  • Keep your clothing clean, repaired and PRESSED. There’s nothing more effective than a pair of shiny, over-used, dirty and unpressed trousers to say “Loser.”
  • Likewise, clean and polish your shoes regularly - and maintain them. Wearers of down-at-heel, scuffed and cracked shoes - see previous entry.
Changing the explicit or implied dress standard can be a subtle, yet powerful tool in revitalising a moribund organisation. The first place to start is grooming, and you as the leader set the standard through your own example.

NB. I don’t specify here what the style of dress should be - only the standard of grooming. I’ve moved organisations from suits to smart casual, and grey shoes & cardigans to suits; whatever works for the business change needed. But whatever your personal or organisational style, be clean and tidy if you want to be taken seriously as a leader.