How we carry ourselves and dress at work affects our ability to lead. But professional bearing doesn’t end there.
In this special edition of the Tough Things First podcast, Essential Leadership Episode Five, Ray discusses how we look and carry ourselves in the workplace and why it matters.
Rob Artigo: Welcome to episode number five in Ray Zinn’s Tough Things First podcast series on essential leadership. I’m your guest host once again, Rob Artigo. I’m with you throughout this entire series. I’m happy to be here. I’m a writer and I’m also an investigator in California. Hi Ray!
Ray Zinn: Hey Rob. So good being with you again.
Rob Artigo: Well, we’ve had four great episodes, they’re now behind us. Although the listeners can go back and listen to them if they haven’t caught them yet, go back and listen to them and it’s not like you have to catch up, but, but please do go back and listen because there’s a lot of good information there and, yeah, you’re going to need it as you move along in the next five podcasts after this one.
So now number five, the professional bearing, the subject of professional bearing on an effective leader. So Ray, you know what I’m talking about when I say professional bearing, right?
Ray Zinn: Absolutely. It’s the way you present yourself.
Rob Artigo: In the military, in a leadership bearing, was when I was first introduced to the word bearing, I didn’t understand exactly what it was, but it has a broad meaning about how you present yourself and it can cover a lot of different areas because people evaluate you on the way you speak. It’s unfortunate in so cases where you go, well, why are people judging me based on it? Judge you based on what you look like, judge you based on… There are judgment out there, particularly if they want to have a business relationship with you, right?
Ray Zinn: Exactly. I can remember this interesting story. We live in Atherton, California, and it’s a fairly upscale community. And so it just so happens that my wife had a bandana around her head and she was with her gloves on and she was kneeling on a pad and she was putting some flowers in a little bed in front of the gate and this woman, very nicely dressed in BMW drove up and she was obviously a real estate salesperson, and she said to my wife, she said, “Do you know the owners of this home?” And my wife looked up at her and said, “Well yes.” And she says, “Well why do you?”, “Oh, because I’d like to meet the owners.” And my wife said, “Well, I am the owner.” and the woman said, “Oh, you are? I thought you were the gardener.”
Even though my wife, being the owner of the home, she was out there gardening and she wasn’t dressed in a nice outfit, she didn’t look like the homeowner, she looked like a gardener. And so she came across as the gardener. And so in every institution or any industry, the way you present yourself is how you’re perceived.
I always believe you need to dress one level higher than you really need to in order to come across, if you, again, if my wife wanted to come across as a gardener, she did a good job because she was viewed as a gardener. And if you’re, when you see a clergymen, they’re dressed as a clergy. When you see a doctor, they’re dressed, they got the white coat on, they’re dressed like a doctor. A technician has a blue coat, or they’re all… They come across as who they are.
And so, depending upon the image you want to project, that’s the way you need to appear. Both in a way your facial look, your body, your character, the way you hold yourself and your language you use, the way you speak, that’s the way you want to come across. Because we all judge our environment based on what we see and our perception of that environment.
Rob Artigo: Well, we’re talking about essential leadership here and so I want to know, does how we carry ourselves, does our bearing when we carry ourselves and how we dress at work actually affect our ability to be leaders.
Ray Zinn: I think so. I mean, not everybody agrees in Silicon Valley, you know that dress down look everybody, the way they are. I remember teaching in a particular class setting with some students and it was early in the morning around oh 8:30 or 9:00 something like that when the class started, and they came in almost like in their pajamas. In fact, some of them may have been their pajamas for all I know, but there’s about 30 Kids and some of them were shaven some of them weren’t, some of them were just in [inaudible] and boy, that really turned me off as the instructor, because they looked like they didn’t care.
They didn’t, obviously they didn’t care the way they looked, they didn’t care the way they acted. They were slouching on their chairs. They weren’t acting like they were paying attention. So I do believe that to be an essential leader, you need to come across that way and not just somebody who doesn’t seem like they care.
Because employees like to work for somebody who believes they care or look like they care. So your appearance really tells you who you are. I mean, if you’re a lifeguard, you’re probably not going to dress in a suit. Or if you’re a salesperson, you’re probably not going to come dressed as a lifeguard. And so we tend to categorize people based on the way they look.
Rob Artigo: Little story. I was working up in Seattle and I was working in radio as a reporter. And I always, unfortunately I didn’t have the same standards that I think I really wish I had adopted early on, but I was kind of a, I don’t know, more of a grungy character. I was on radio so it didn’t matter what really what I looked like. At least that’s the way I looked at. It was hey, I’m on radio, all I have to do is sound good. I don’t have to look good, right?
So I go up to an event to cover a political debate on the top of the tallest building in Seattle, and there’s a club up there and they have a dress code. And I went up to the top of this building and they wouldn’t let me in because I was wearing jeans and I had to cover the story. And they go, “Well, we have loner pants.”
So I said, “Okay.” And you know how you go to a, this is a tie required thing so we have loner ties. We’ll give you a loner tie. And I’d never heard of loner pants before. And what these pants were, were like, if you remember MC Hammer and those balloon kind of clown pants, this is what it was like. So I put the pants on and they were striped and they looked ridiculous and I went and covered this thing.
The lesson was, I should have dressed nicer for any reason, not just to go up in the tallest building there. But the embarrassment, it was a hilarious moment because I looked like a clown and everybody knew that I was the guy who didn’t wear the right kind of pants and had never been up to that top of that building before. So I got the job done.
Ray Zinn: But you know, it’s interesting. I had a customer Qualcomm, their purchasing people came to visit us and they were, they had short pants on, tennis shoes and polo shirts. And they’re from San Diego, of course that’s where Qualcomm is. And they came in to visit with me because they had some concerns. They were our customer. Qualcomm at the time was our largest customer at that time. And so I said to them, “Well, I guess you guys look like you’re going to the beach or going to play tennis, not come to visit me.” And they look kind of, looked at each other and I said, “At our company, and I know you’re our customer, and I respect that, but I would appreciate it if you would come back properly dressed.” And so they left, went down to a local men’s store and bought some white shirt and tie and a pair of slacks. And they were back, oh, took them about an hour and hour and a half and they were back, and I thanked them. I really appreciate you respecting our company, respect what we stand for.
And my sales people were absolutely shocked that I would speak to a customer like that. But I was very kind about it. I just said, “I appreciate you respecting who we are.” And later when they were leaving, they did express appreciation to me. They said, ” Look, we learned a lesson. We learned that when we come to particular area, that we have to respect other people. We can’t, just because we’re the customer, we can’t demand that they kind of conform to who we are. We got to conform to who they are, if we are in their home or their house as you would,” Which would be our building.
So again, I was very kind about it. Now, when I was teaching that class and they were dressed slouchly, I didn’t come dressed that way because I was the teacher. Now, if I were the student and the teacher came in dressed slouchy, I’d still dress one level higher than I needed to be, just because I wanted to come across correctly. And don’t forget, this series on essential leadership is doing the right thing in the right way. And so just because everybody else looks like there are a bunch of clowns doesn’t mean you have to dress like a clown. You want to set the example because setting the proper example is key to running a successful company.
Rob Artigo: So taking yourself, you want to be able to show, demonstrate that you are taking yourself seriously, but also what you’re doing and that you’re not wasting the people’s time around you. I mean, doesn’t that really tell you how important bearing is?
Ray Zinn: Yeah. I had a number of my people when they would come visit with me, my employees, they may come to work in a pair of jeans and a polo shirt, but if they knew they had to come see me, they dressed up. They put some lax on, or a shirt and a tie because that shows respect. And so, that’s what we do. We show respect. If we’re going to a wedding, we don’t come dressed like we’re going to go scuba diving. You can imagine what that would look like. Or if you go into a funeral and you come dressed like a clown. You want to respect the area in which you’re working.
Rob Artigo: In modern America, 2021 in Silicon Valley, you mentioned the difference between the standards you had at Micrel for 38 years and what we have here now, which tends to be a very casual environment. We have an environment, and not to get into the subject of the culture wars right now, but we have almost like there’s two extremes, there’s the, I’m so serious and professional projecting something about some sort of strange standard out there about language or social behavior sort of thing. While at the same time, looking, literally going to work looking like you’re going to your friend’s house to play video games and smoke marijuana or something.
Ray Zinn: Well, I sold the company in 2015 and up until the day we sold the company, we had a certain culture and a certain way we presented ourselves, projected ourselves. And after I sold the company, then the people that took it over didn’t have that same culture, that same image that they were trying to project and so a lot of my employees like that, they liked to go more casual. But up until the day we sold the company, we dressed liked we always had since I started the company in 1978. And that just, we just projected that very professional image.
Rob Artigo: Well, we have been spending a lot of time talking about what our clothing projects to other people, but you’ve also mentioned the word slouchy and the way you carry yourself. So, if I’m slouchy or if I don’t learn how to stand properly, can I project a level of disrespect?
Ray Zinn: Absolutely. I mean, that is disrespectful. And we know that. When you act slouchy, you’re acting like you don’t care and you don’t care if they don’t think you care. And so you don’t come across as trustworthy and dependable and all the things that you would expect from that person, no matter what the rest of the world does, you want to be who you want to be. And if you want to be a slouchy company, if you want to come across casual, then that’s the image of your company.
If you can be a successful leader, running a more slouchy organization, then, and if it’s successful, more power to you, but again, your appearance, the way you hold yourself, it is the projection that people are going to remember about your company. And I know there’s a lot of successful companies out there. At least the parent successful companies that do have a slouchy image and they think that’s great. So again, I’m not trying to criticize that, I’m just trying to say, project the image that’ll help you be more successful.
Rob Artigo: Yeah. Why should there be a difference, right? This is a rhetorical question I guess. Why should there be a difference between how much time you spend making a presentation professional, whether it’s the handouts or the cards and the pictures, and you do all this effort to make it everything look nice and also communicate properly, be professional and say, “We’re a professional organization that will deliver this product to you, or this standard of service to you.” And then stand there looking at the same time like you’re operating a gas pump.
Ray Zinn: Yeah. This is it. I have this program called Zen Starter for universities. It’s kind of like a Shark Tank for universities. And so when they make their presentation, at least when I’m present anyway, they are dressed really well. I mean you wouldn’t recognize them as students because they’re really dressed up nice. And so the professor always makes a mention afterwards. He says, “Did you see how they’re dressed?” And I would say, “Yes, I really appreciate that.” And maybe they’ll go change their clothes when I leave but it was really interesting that when, the ones that made the best impression on me, are the ones that were dressed and appeared appropriate,
Rob Artigo: Those professors who got to know you or get to know you through Zen Starter, you think they are apt to let the students know, hey, it’s probably a good idea to consider how you appear.
Ray Zinn: Absolutely. Because they’ve gotten this lecture from me already. So yes, absolutely. To respect me and who I am, they do dress appropriately.
Rob Artigo: Well, we’re discussing essential leadership here on this special edition of the Tough Things First podcast. This is episode number five of essential leadership. You can reach out to Ray Zinn with your questions at toughthingsfirst.com where you’ll find more podcasts, blogs, and links to information about Ray’s books.
Tough Things first of course is the namesake of the podcast here. It’s the big book you got to get that, get your hands on it and make sure you make it part of your learning experience and preparing as a young or even seasoned leader. You can learn something Zen of Zen and Zen of Zen two are also helpful daily affirmations, tidbits on great thoughts on leadership entrepreneurialism.
So please go to your favorite podcast source, probably the one you’re listening to right now and give your rating, help us spread the word about the Tough Things First podcast. I look forward to an episode six Ray. I haven’t decided exactly which will come next, but you know what? We’ve got so many subjects to talk about. I hope we can cover them all here in this series, Essential Leadership.
Ray Zinn: Yep. Let’s do it.