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.




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Negotiate Like A Man


I was recently engaged in a search in which very few people in the US are qualified: under 15, to be exact. Interesting enough, the final candidate pool consisted of 2 qualified individuals – a male stepping into the role and a female with a few more years of experience than the male co-candidate. Several rounds of negotiation ensued with both candidates and the end result didn’t surprise me: The male candidate ended up negotiating his compensation to a level more senior than the more experienced female. The male got the job.

Gender pay-gap is a hot topic. Females are programmed early on with sugar, spice, and everything nice; couple this with both conscious and unconscious gender biases in productivity and performance and the gap is continually compounded over the lifetime of a career. The Coalition of Labor Union Women estimates that a female corporate, college educated worker makes hundreds of thousands less than her male counterparts – $713,000.

So listen up, because it could make a big dent in that retirement account.

  1. Most employers anticipate some negotiation.

All negotiation starts with fully listening, from the initial phone call to offer stage. While in some corporations they will disclose up front the limitations on the position, some do not especially if the role is newly created. Companies expect some amount of candidate collaboration on compensation, so begin listening to those cues early on to better formulate your compensation.

  1. Do your research; Ask a man and everyone else you know in a similar role about their compensation.

If you rely on your network, you will find the market rate for your role. I would rely less on the online calculators and do your own research if time affords you the opportunity to do so. Different industries and geographies tend to have different parameters on pay scale so keep that in mind as well.

  1. You are not only negotiating for you; you are negotiating for the absence of your time in other areas.

You are not asking only for you. You are also asking for your absence in other arenas that need your skills and/or time as well. Balance your negotiation with how else you could be spending your time.

  1. Keep it positive and focus on your advantages in the role.

Eliminate the possibility of negativity in negotiation by highlighting the overall value of your work, perspective and impact. I once had a single mom tell me “I won’t take anything less than 160K and I am worth every single penny”. Guess what, she was right, and then some.

  1. It’s okay to turn an offer down.

It’s okay to turn down an offer if you are seeing what you want. Keep in mind that some employers might be willing to work with you in other areas outside of base + bonus so be sure to ask for a better match, retirement plan, vacation prior to turning anything down. You may be surprised that most employers are willing to meet you in the middle.


I’ll leave this post with a thought: most women are naturally wired to be great negotiators. We fail to execute on this within salary negotiations because you  know – sugar, spice, everything nice. There is room in every negotiation for snails and puppy dog tails, so don’t be too sweet to ask.


Stop Apologizing


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.


Dress: Jaycie Dress from M.M. LaFleur

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


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.

Duty In All Matters Is The Only Thing That Matters


“I had a job to do so I did it”, is what my stepdad told me about being a 20 something year old dropped into the middle of Vietnam. He never really talked about Vietnam much but I knew that my stepdad was a true patriot.

After graduating from college where he played basketball, my stepdad was drafted into the Army’s 101st Airborne. At 6’7 he was a formidable guy. He was the M-60 gunner for his platoon, which was nicknamed “The Pig” because it weighed over 25lbs. He earned two bronze stars in just under a year in Vietnam, and to be honest, I am not sure why, because he never spoke of his accolades – he just wasn’t the type.

His sense of duty from the military and teamwork from his college basketball days permeated his entire life.  He made a good career in electronic sales and eventually was the GM over the business. Back in the early part of his career he was consistently the top sales person, but he never spoke about it. I imagine that he gained his success by building true relationships within his customers. He was never developed the sleezy side of the sales business. He had that military theme of duty that he extended to his customer base.

As he grew into the GM role the sense of duty went into hyper-drive. He was the first one in and last one out on most days. He told me once that he was amazed at how some people could be successful without the effort. He chalked it up to them being smarter and having natural abilities to connect the business dots. For him, he had to work hard every single day and that was the only way he knew how to be successful. He helped mold a company of future leaders by displaying the discipline of hard work and his company is undoubtedly better for his decades of hard work.  

Just prior to his passing, a large, long-term client of mine had been acquired by a competitor. All the projects we had went on hold and eventually went away all together. It was a hit to the business. A colleague asked if we were going to be okay without their business and I responded that it would be a tough year, but eventually it would be a good thing because the leadership will most likely break-up and move to other companies that could then become new clients. She was amazed by my confidence, but I was only being truthful. I was right. Two years later the business has returned just with different companies. Lessons learned by my stepdads understated approach and sense of duty to his clients gave me that confidence.

He not only was the guy you could completely count on at work, but he also was the anchor of our family. Unfortunately, we lost him two years ago due to a group of individuals that did not hold the sense of duty in their job

I am thankful that he taught me some lessons.

  1. The hardest working person in the room is often the person that never complains about it.
  2. You will never be criticized by someone doing more than you.
  3. Talent means nothing without hard work.
  4. Duty in all matters is the only thing that matters.


In Loving Memory of Burt Stills