Written by 11:17 am Women in Business

You Don’t Look Like a CEO

You dont look like a CEO

When someone unexpectedly asks me a question, I’m usually prepared for it. However, I received a recent criticism that threw me off:

 “You don’t look like a CEO.”

Um…what does that mean?  What does a CEO even “look” like? How can someone appear like a CEO or not? You’re either in that role or you aren’t—right? You may already know that I work in an industry where males heavily dominate—and here I am standing at a meager 5 feet, 1 inch.

The person who made this remark was actually trying to flatter me. To her credit, I had also just arrived after a 6 hour plane ride and was in gym clothes with a 1SEO hoodie.

The Power of Dressing for Success

I’ve put in a lot of time and effort to craft the persona I want to represent in the workplace. I wasn’t offended by the comment at all, but the remark actually piqued my interest. I was curious as to what sort of image she had in mind for a chief executive officer. When I searched the internet for examples of “how a CEO should look,” I found many pictures of men dressed formally, but far less of women. 

Give it a try, you’ll see exactly what I mean.

Like I’ve mentioned in prior posts, I always dress professionally or at least in business casual wear at the office. Because success is my ultimate goal, I always make sure to look the part. 

Not just my own personal success, it’s more than that.

I care about the success of my clients, my business, and my team. It’s incredibly important to me that I portray outwardly, how I want to feel inwardly. I have to admit, I knew walking into that hotel, that I didn’t feel like my normal, ‘CEO-self’. I was dressed down and certainly feeling extremely casual.

Casual Isn’t Always a Bad Thing Though

Recently, my work has required me to do a lot of traveling, which has its own advantages and disadvantages. There’s enough “work travel” stories to fill a book. But one of the things I enjoy most about business trips is the chance to network and spread my message, which of course is beneficial in any field.

Meeting new people presents its own set of difficulties, but as an essential part of networking, small talk is one of these obstacles. Everyone is there to meet new people and build professional connections, armed with their own special “ice breakers” to use when starting conversations

The icebreaker remark about my lack of ‘CEO good looks’ was meant to be just that. The objective was to get people talking to one another. My appearance made her far more comfortable to break the ice and start up a conversation.

Following a fruitful discussion on the topic of “what does a CEO look like,” on my part, I have come to the following conclusion: A chief executive officer could be anyone from your next-door neighbor to your workout buddy or the family-oriented stranger you met at Disney World. No matter what your job title is, you are free to dress and act how you choose outside of work hours.

Dress It up and Dress It Down

It’s fine to dress formally or casually depending on the situation, but I’ve found that every CEO I’ve met has one constant trait: they’re always thinking like CEOs. That’s the crux of the issue. The Harvard Business Review published an essay analyzing the qualities that, in their opinion, make for an effective chief executive officer. They are as follows:

  1. Deciding with speed and conviction
  2. Engaging for impact
  3. Adapting proactively
  4. Delivering reliably

A positive reputation as a professional is crucial to my success as a chief executive officer; after all, no one wants to be labeled as incompetent. Not this gal! But I care more about people knowing that I’m a serious business person than they do about how I look.

I Choose to Be Decisive in My Decision Making

A bad decision is far better than no decision at all. In my organization, everyone should know they can give input into decisions, however they may not always get a vote. The nature of my business necessitates it, and I believe my staff would benefit from having a leader who can roll with the punches when necessary. I’ve decided to put my energy towards building a reputation as an honest and trustworthy leader who always follows through on her promises.

Whatever you wear — workout clothes, high heels, or a sharp suit — know that your presence alone will make a difference. Show up fierce and ready to make an impact. I think you can handle it.

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Last modified: December 12, 2022