Style Matters

Business, Work Wear

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“It all seems so vain and selfish”, is what an acquaintance of mine said regarding my position on impression management.  To tell the truth, I thought the same way early in my career, and it showed.  However, what we wear speaks volumes in just a few seconds. Social psychology tells us this as well as a boatload of facts and data, but if it’s hard to wrap your hands around the vanity of choosing style, let me arm you with my own personal style journey.

I was 26 when I really started to take note. Why was it that the ladies that dressed “well” garnered more business than I did and they weren’t a bit more talented? After my first large bonus check, I decided to make an investment in my clothing. At the time, it was less of a style choice, because I hadn’t developed that yet, and more of a uniform. My uniform consisted of three pants, two skirts, three blazers, five collared shirts, and one pair of polished jeans. Everything came from Banana Republic outside of the shirts which wear from Brooks Brothers.

Normally, I would confine myself to my cubicle and seldom make in-person meetings. At the time I would excuse my cubicle dwelling as needing to build my business. After the investment with appropriate attire, which was somewhere in the total ballpark of $2000 (seemed to be a lot at the time), I found an excuse or two a month to be meeting clients in person.

In-person meetings can have an amazing impact on your business especially if it’s not something that you are used to doing. The more I was in front of clients, the more successful I was, the more confident I became and the more style notes I took.

As I became more confident, I realized that I did not like certain things, like pants. After minding my style for three years in a male-dominated industry, I made the big leap to dresses and skirts. This may really seem like an endeavor in frivolity but there is something immensely powerful surrounding a woman’s ability to feel confident, dressed as a woman with a peer group almost made entirely of men. I can recall one specific meeting when a photographer stepped in for a photo and it was 9 men in suits and one woman in a pink mandarin collared dress. Guess who billed the most that year?

I get that making an investment on the outside may seem vain – remember it’s not the what’s on the outside that counts, right? However, the data surrounding how others form their opinion of you is indisputable, and it does matter. If that’s not enough for you, then give it a try like I did. See how an investment in how you show up can impact your confidence and bank account. I promise you – style matters.

 

 

 

Stop Apologizing

Etiquette

It’s no secret that half of the workforce is female. It’s also not a secret that a majority of those working females are also mothers. This summer, I chose to work remotely so that my children could spend time with their grandfather and attend awesome summer camps that were out of the state. I am a firm believer of taking my children outside of their comfort zone. At the ripe ages of 6 and 8, we left Atlanta for 5 weeks. I rented an office in Beaufort, SC where my father lives, and let my boys have the best summer of the lives. I only missed two days of work and had the most productive five weeks in nearly 6 years.

Typically, I tend to go out of my way for the professional and philanthropic relationships I have in my life. My personality type lends itself to advocating for others and causes in need. Because I wasn’t in proximity, I was unable to fill the gaps placed upon me by these relationships. They were not expectations that were discussed with me, just the assumption that I would be able to handle a task, or make a meeting, or help them with an initiative that is totally outside of my scope of responsibility and wouldn’t have normally made my priority list. Because of the distance between South Carolina and Atlanta I found myself apologizing for expectations that other people had placed upon me. I found myself feeling guilty for not being able to rise above for a friend, colleague, or a cause. I also found myself saying ‘I’m sorry” a lot for things that pale in comparison to what I am responsible for – raising my children, spending time with my family, and running my business. I stopped apologizing.

If you come to a crossroads when someone or a cause makes you feel guilty for choosing your family or your business, never apologize. Instead, state your priorities and thank them for their understanding.

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Dress: Jaycie Dress from M.M. LaFleur

Obstacles are Expected and Excuses are for People Who Need Them.

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This is part three of four regarding military men and the lessons I learned.

“Excuses are for people that need them”, said my former CEO, Art Lucas, to a former colleague of mine. She had explained that she was running behind because of the nightmares of Atlanta traffic. Art Lucas was former Army and took zero excuses from anyone. You have a target and whether the target was a time, a number, or a place, the objective was to meet it. Excuses were just distractions or obstacles to overcome while meeting your target. Obstacles in any pursuit, are to be anticipated.

Much like Meridian Group, Art Lucas started as a small one-man business in 1970. Art had the important vision of helping military personnel transition to the civilian workforce after completing their military service. Lucky for me, later Art expanded his business to included executive search as well as expanded his footprint to include 17 offices worldwide. I started working there in early 2005.

Art was an early riser and he was one of the first at the office which was one of the few things we had in common, albeit my objective was to beat traffic into the office. He, like many successful CEO’s, knew the importance of starting your day early. Because our days started at a similar time, and my cubical was on the same floor as his office, we often met in the lobby or taking the stairs up to the office. Sometimes I’d take the elevator, but most of the time I take the steps to get the blood going after spending 25 minutes in the car. It’s amazing what you can learn from someone just by taking the stairs or rising early. Those were probably the only two things Art and I had in common at the time.

A good CEO looks to find common ground amongst their ranks. He would occasionally stop by my desk to ask me what I thought as an associate regarding whatever policy du jour change. So as a junior associate, I was able to know the CEO at a different level than most. If our paths didn’t cross in the stairway, in the lobby, or at my desk, I would poke my head into his office once a week to say hello. If I caught him early enough, he was usually gazing over a map of the low country, near Savannah. Outside of his family, it was clear that Art was passionate about four things to me, the military, his employees, breaking the socioeconomic divide in Atlanta, and acquiring land in coastal Georgia. Art wisely started a company that could aid him in all four of these passions.

Art taught me what it meant to be a charitable company. Without a doubt, Art had revenue targets and high expectations of his employees, but he also wanted to provide an avenue to give back. This was my first introduction to corporate charitable causes in a time when this wasn’t popular to infuse into a corporate culture. He would promote paid internships for high performing, low-income teens in summer internships with our company and with our clients. I was able to act as a mentor to a teen over the summer months and it aided in my development as a whole person.

To me at the time, Art was an insanely smart man with an MBA from Thunderbird to match. But reflecting on it, he may have just been of average intelligence but of extraordinary discipline. His discipline carried him from a one-person shop to 17 offices internationally and an eventual buy-out from a PE firm. He relocated to coastal Georgia in 2010 to pursue his passion for acquiring real estate.

I ended up leaving the firm after he sold. At the time I felt like the magic was gone, but now I think to realize it was less about the magic and more about the identity. When you know who you are working for and what they are passionate about, it gives you a sense of ownership in the company.

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I visited Art several years ago and I asked him if he missed the recruiting business. Without pause, he said, “I miss knowing that the work I did on a daily basis provided for so many employees and their families; that my work, directly and indirectly, helped so many people make a good life.”

Art left behind a legacy of talented, disciplined recruiting professionals. I was fortunate that his military style and discipline resonated with me and even luckier our paths crossed frequently so that I could see the embodiment of executive corporate leadership at a young stage in my career. It has shaped every aspect of my professional life. Art was also right because excuses are for people that need them.

The Four Wise Men

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This is the first part of a four series blog regarding the four military men that shaped my professional career. It’s a tribute to those that have made me emotionally tough enough for business. 

“Feet on the floor, Theodora”. Those are the words I heard every morning growing up if my dad beat my alarm clock. He wasn’t there to be my friend or pretend to be my boyfriend, like so many of my friends’ fathers. He was there to teach me discipline and how to be an adult.

While my dad grew up in a family of resource, he did not rely on it. Upon graduating high school he joined the Air Force Academy to pave his own path. The Air Force Academy has a philosophy that first you need to be a great follower. Then you can become a great leader. He flew in Vietnam and returned home to fly jets for Delta Air Lines. He took his G.I. bill and went to Law School. He practiced law and flew with Delta for over 30 years.

When your father is an attorney/pilot you may anticipate that his youngest daughter might reap some reward of his financial success. Being the fourth child, his patience at that point was spent and he relied on the style that suited him the best – military. I grew up in an affluent town and ran in “popular” crowd. I recall being jealous of my friend’s father’s in the sense that they would spoil them with gifts and attention. I

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Derek Lam coat outside of the Chapel of Cadets at USAF.

remember a friend of mine receiving a new

convertible BMW for her 15th birthday. On my 15th birthday, I was permitted to find a job to pay for the things I wanted. So, I worked a lot and sometimes late and that’s when I’d wake up to “feet on the floor, Theodora”.

My friend’s parents would also be involved with their teachers. If the child disagreed with the teacher, the parent would get involved. I would see my friends’ parents show up at school and verbally shake a fist at teachers for their kids. I recall once that I had an issue with a math teacher, and I brought it to my father’s attention with the anticipation that he would handle it for me. His response to me was, “he has the grade book, so he is in control.” Essentially my dad said that he wasn’t willing to help me. I thought it was cold, but I decided that I would talk to the teacher myself. It didn’t work out the way I wanted it to, but it taught me a lesson in the chain of command.

Even with food in the house, he was militant. If you didn’t like what was on the menu, or you had a special request for the grocery store it was met with silence. If you wanted something that was off the meal-plan than you had to buy it yourself. I asked him once if he’d pick me up some salad dressing if I paid him for it and he said, “I’m not going down that aisle, you need to pick it up yourself”.

We had a lot of rules regarding cleanliness and chores. Most of my friends had maids or a stay at home mom that handled that type of stuff. On Friday’s if I wanted to do something after work he would ask if my room was ready for “inspection”. He’d halfway joke about breaking out the white gloves, but I knew he would if he thought I had slacked off so even the lampshades were dusted on a weekly basis.

My father did do a good job of telling me that he loved me. He said it, and still says it, all of the time. But growing up, he was raising me to be self-reliant. If I wanted anything, I was going to have to work for it. This skill has directly translated to my success in the workplace as an adult. He taught me some key military values: nobody deserves special treatment, handle your own problems, and if you want something, you need to work for it.

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Simple floral with an affordable blazer from Target

As a woman in business, I learned these fundamentals at an early stage which has propelled me forward. Every morning I wake up with a voice in my head saying “Feet on the floor, Theodora.”

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EMOTIONALLY COMPROMISED LEADERSHIP

 

“Don’t let your emotions undermine your business”, is what I was told by a 40 something male boss when I was an early 20’s something emotional female. “Operate under facts and data and your business life will be more fruitful”, he said. At the time, I thought he was being insensitive but later learned that he was indeed correct.

What happens when a leader allows their emotions to compromise their business? Nothing good, I can tell you that. And chances are that the leader is immensely insecure which compromises the business in its entirety. I am not suggesting that the leader act as if emotions don’t matter. I am suggesting that leaders should have the ability to manage their own emotions and also be able to influence and recognize others’ emotions. By recognizing the emotions of others, a true leader can then fully utilize facts and data to influence the emotions of others on their team. And by managing their own emotions, a leader can overcome many business obstacles.

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This is a spin on the traditional work LBD. Add an MM LaFleur Jardigan and a thin belt (Gucci in this picture) and you are officially ready.

 

Managing your emotions may be a hard business habit to break. It took me several years in my late 20’s to really understand how to take criticism as a compliment. While I still haven’t mastered managing my emotions, I do consider myself ahead of the game. Here are a few thought processes to help you manage your emotions:

 

Evaluate – take the time to (as objectively) evaluate the scenario. When I have harsh feedback, instead of immediately responding, my canned response is, “let me get back to you on that.” In some circumstances, it’s something I can resolve in a brisk walk and in others I need to sleep on it.

Resolve – be active in finding the solution to the scenario to cause the emotion. This will help you work through the process of your emotions as well as give you a positive experience in finding a solution

Communicate – While working toward the solution, clearly articulate in a non-emotional manner your methodology in your scenario. This will give the critic the opportunity to understand why and lead to less friction in the future.

 

Understand that emotions were developed as survival mechanisms and are hardwired into our biology, just like metabolic processes and muscular reflexes, so it is okay and biologically correct to experience emotions.  When I experience a leader that rules by emotion, I know that they will not be in that role for long. Ruling without facts and data and running on an emotional high only suffices the need for yourself and not the business at hand. It’s best to take a pause, evaluate, communicate, and move along.