It’s a bird, it’s a plane! No, it’s an executive presence

Dr. Carol Parker Walsh

Did you know on average we spend about 45 minutes each morning deciding what to wear? Admittedly, this statistic is slightly lower for men, although when dressing for a special meeting, presentation or occasion, men can take up to 45 minutes deciding what to wear. Why do we spend so much time and worry on this daily, seemingly easy task? Because what we wear has a significant affect and influence on our self-concept, mood and behavior. We know that in less than three seconds a potential client or customer will decide whether or not they can trust us and ultimately work with us before we even open our mouths. In sum, what we wear has power.

When I think about power, I can’t help but reflect on the superheroes we’ve all come to know and love, and maybe even resonate with. Spiderman, Superman and Wonder Woman in particular are all well known as much for their power as the customs they don. We know that when they appear in full regalia the world is about to be saved and evil will be dealt with. They exude power and confidence not only in their own minds, but in the minds of those around them. But what would happen if Spiderman, Superman or Wonder Woman were to show up in jeans and a t-shirt or khakis and a white button down shirt? Would you see them differently? Would you question their ability to “save the day?”

What’s true of each of these characters is that their super powers exist independent of their costumes. They can achieve the same daring and bold rescues, conquer menacing villains, and restore order and justice. So why do they wear their customs? Each costume represents (a) their authentic style (there’s personal historical significance), (b) they’re flattering to their physique and body structure, and (c) they project their brand and image to the world and present executive presence.

In Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s book, “Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success,” she talks about that “wow factor” that is immediately present with someone who has executive presence. Executive presence is based on three pillars: (1) how you act or “gravitas” (behavior); (2) how you speak (communication); and (3) how you look (appearance). While all three will make up the superhero’s persona, it is their appearance – what you think of them when they walk in the room – that holds immense significance and can detract from or bolster gravitas and communication. Mistakes, mishaps, un-polished, or unkempt attire and appearance can undermine your effectiveness by up to 75 percent!

Whether you’re running your own entrepreneurial business or a part of a larger business, you’ll want to be sure to present your image and brand in a way that will positively enhance your offering in the eye of your customers and potential clients. How can you do this? Here are five ways you can solidify your superhero status:

Identify your authentic style – Although you may see a piece of yourself in a variety of styles, you’ll need to do some work to find the one that genuinely reflects you. Every superhero costume was developed from a personal place, not a reflection of what they saw others wearing.

Learn your body shape – It’s important to understand your body shape and structure so the clothes you wear will highlight your structure and fit you appropriately.

Audit and organize your closet – The only way to be mindful and strategic about wearing clothes that represent you and your image is to fill your closet with clothes that speak the language you want others to hear.

Set business goals daily – Every day you go to your closet you should do so knowing what you have planned for the day and what you want to get accomplished. With this information you’ll be equipped for whatever may come your way.

Work with a professional – Certified image consultants, such as myself, are trained to work with clients on their appearance, behavior and communication. Stylists focus on appearance, so be sure to work with someone who understands the nuances of executive presence (including communication skills, etiquette, leadership and presentation). Most successful entrepreneurs and executives have an image consultant on staff to maintain their superhero status.

Dr. Carol Parker Walsh, a certified image professional and owner of Camas-based Evolve Image Consulting, is the expert behind the Vancouver Business Journal’s advice column: Dress Code. These columns specialize in strategies for developing a positive and professional self-image. Walsh can be reached at