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Monday, August 10, 2009

If you look bad, you are bad

Actually, this is only 1/2 of the phrase I tell people on my teams or leaders I've trained. The entire saying is "If you look good, you may or may not be good, but if you look bad, you are bad." Sentence structure-wise, it's not that great, but hopefully it conveys my meaning.

Let's expand a little. Perception is huge in life, isn't it? We judge and are judged constantly. We often make snap decisions regarding people by just the smallest thing or things we see. By "thing" I mean, neatness, vocabulary, writing, spelling, dress standards, etc.

In business, our credibility is everything (read more here). Because of that, we have to be aware of the "things" we are showing others. It shouldn't have to be that way, but it is. Perceptions, especially negative ones, are hard to overcome.

Here are a few "if you look bad" examples:

  • Misspellings on a letter (especially on a resume or cover letter)
  • Grammar and sentence structure issues in emails and documents (professionals really ought to be able to write...and so many cannot)
  • Chomping your gum (or even chewing it in certain situations)
  • Sloppy dress (unless that's the look you're going for...please say it isn't) and poor grooming
  • Poor posture
There are lots of ways to present ourselves poorly, and there are ways to present ourselves positively. In the Army, the saying goes, "If it doesn't work, paint it", meaning at least it will look good and, on the surface, people may have a positive first glance.

Now, I'm not at all advocating fluff over substance, but let's face it. The judgments are real and are happening as I write. You can have the best ideas and best products in the world, but if people have anything less than positive thoughts regarding any of the reasons above or any others you might think of, your credibility will be hurt. Take a look at yourself and ensure your "fluff" matches your substance.

Take-away: Look good and BE good.


  1. Ok, so this makes you look like an old-fashioned Andy Rooney crank, but you are SO RIGHT! Perception is truly HUGE and credibility can be lost so easily.

    However, you don't want to get in the trap of always second-guessing yourself regarding other peoples' perceptions, but basic common sense should suffice. So as a leader do you simply model this Truth, or lay down the law?

    This from a middle-aged man who got his ear pierced last year!

  2. What's old-fashioned about being professional? If the dress-code is jeans and a t-shirt, then people should still ensure they're neat and groomed. They shouldn't look like they slept in their clothes and rolled right out of bed before work.

    I don't think you have to second-guess yourself on others' perceptions if you are performing "due diligence" with your professionalism. It should be common sense, like you say.

    As a leader, you let your people know your expectations and then model the behavior you seek.

    Thanks for the comments.


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