Last week, Mark Zuckerberg showed up to his IPO road show in a hoodie. Cool, right? Maybe — but what I’ve learned over my 42 years in the business world is that cool doesn’t always get the job done. Like it or not, fair or not, you most likely will be judged on what some people consider artificial things like what you wear, or your manners, or your grammar. And it makes sense to keep the focus of your audience where it belongs – on the substance of your presentation or your great idea – not on what you are wearing.
Much has been written over the past few days about Mr. Zuckerberg’s choice of attire and the manner in which his audience reacted to it. Some analysts called it immature, while others said it put in question his readiness to effectively lead a publicly traded company. I’m pretty sure this is not the reaction he had intended. Perhaps what he was trying to say is that an IPO isn’t going to change him or maybe he was saying it really doesn’t matter what clothes you wear. The irony is that Zuckerberg’s choice of wardrobe became a distraction from the business plans he was presenting.
Perhaps the CEO of a company like Facebook doesn’t have to dress like most of us in the business world. Maybe, he can be among that very small group of CEOs like Steve Jobs, but for the rest of us, the best advice I can offer is that there are some very basic things you must be able to demonstrate before you can even be considered to begin a journey up the corporate ladder.
What are the “basics”?
- You must dress appropriately and respectfully. The way you dress will show you are serious and professional. It will show respect for your customers, your bosses, your co-workers and, frankly, the pride you have in yourself. Bottom line: dress in a way that doesn’t distract from the substance of what you say or do.
- You must be able to speak clearly and make yourself understood. Successful business people don’t speak in slang, street talk or use profane language. This may sound obvious, but I’ve found that many people fresh out of college do not speak articulately, or even plainly.
- You must be able to write in a manner, which can be easily understood. The successful people I’ve worked with cannot only speak clearly, but they can write things others can easily read and understand. In addition to having the ability to express oneself coherently in writing, it’s important to spell and punctuate correctly. This should be a given for college graduates, but in the age of spell-check, all too often I’ve found it not to be the case.
If Mr. Zuckerberg was trying to show his individuality, perhaps the best way he could have done so was to dress appropriately and simply be himself: a young, smart, professional CEO of one of the largest and most hyped IPO’s in history.
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