Does Appearance Make You a Better Leader?

October 2011

What’s more important to employees responsible for the day-to-day operation – and success – of a business or organization? Is it the boss’s “executive presence”… or the boss’s “management actions?”

A recent Wall Street Journal Web site blog by WSJ news editor Joann Lublin prompts this question. Under the headline “How to Look and Act Like a Leader,” she writes “Savvy executives know the part, act the part and look the part. That’s because they exude ‘executive presence,’ a broad term used to describe the aura of leadership.”

What is “executive presence?” Lublin lists examples of “Executive Presence” provided by Dee Soder, founder of CEO Perspective Group, an executive-assessment and advisory concern in New York. These “executive presence” behaviors include: Sit on one hand if you gesture excessively. Stand or sit large to demonstrate you take up space. Practice a firm handshake. Don’t clasp your hands behind your back because you’ll look deceptive.

Lublin reports: “Executives with presence act self-confident, strategic, decisive and assertive, concludes a study released late last year by the Center for Work-Life Policy, a New York think tank.”

Bruce L. Katcher — whose Discovery Surveys, Inc., has compiled results from more than 60,000 employee surveys in the last 15 years – answers differently when asked what managers and executives need to succeed as leaders. Katcher, author of 30 Reasons Employees Hate Their Managers, explains there is a conflict or disconnect between many employees and managers. To a large extent, management has abdicated “their longstanding responsibility to provide leadership.”

Katcher says of the Wall Street Journal post by Lublin: “Executive presence behaviors are focused on the totally wrong things. If you want to be a good manager, focus on your employees and everything else will follow. Promotions, trust by senior management will follow if you focus on your primary job which is to motivate and engage and develop your employees.” He adds: “When you think about some of your best bosses you’ve had, I’m sure you’re not thinking of how they looked, but you’re thinking about how they listened to you and did they respect you and empower you.”

Katcher knows the behaviors most important for leaders because of what employees reveal about their bosses. The subtitle of his book is What Your People May Be Thinking and What You Can Do About It. The 60,000-plus responses come from employees about evenly split between manufacturing and service organizations, ranging in size from 150 to 5,000 employees.

Here are key findings from responses of thousands of employees in the surveys Katcher and his company conduct:

* 46 percent of employees believe management treats them with disrespect.

* 63 percent believe decisions in their company are usually not made at the appropriate level.

* 52 percent do not feel free to voice their opinions openly.

* 53 percent believe their organization is applying personnel policies and procedures unfairly.

* 66 percent say management doesn’t listen to them.

* 67 percent say management fails to act on employee suggestions.

* 46 percent believe their organizations do not treat employees with personal respect.

* 53 percent say their boss doesn’t positively motivate them.

* 56 percent believe their organization is not well managed.

* 61 percent believe their organization tolerates poor performers… and 60 percent feel poor performers aren’t appropriately managed.

* 52 percent say their performance reviews are useless.

What Savvy Leaders Need to Effectively Lead. Katcher offers several tips for those who want to become successful workplace leaders. Here are five:

1. Treat employees as “valued business partners.” Be a good listener. Go out of your way to respect the advice and counsel you receive from employees.

2. Focus on developing employees. “To really care about your employees, focus on and think about how you can develop them. Care about developing them.”

3. Be honest at all times. “Honesty is always the best policy when communicating to employees.”

4. Have good values, good personal values. “People won’t trust you as a manager if you don’t show you have values that inspire them as well.”

5. In performance reviews, focus on behaviors not traits. “Feedback should be a discussion of specifically observed behavior rather than an evaluation of an employee’s personality.”