by Allison Baltzersen
How we define success and who we are seeking to impress dictates how we dress as a leader.
I recently attended a WLI event in which I was surrounded by other leaders from a variety of professions. I noticed quickly that they were dressed up. Like dry-clean-only suits and beige pumps dressed up. And as I sat there, I began to feel insecure about my wardrobe, my influence, my ability to lead.
You see, I hold an MBA and have managed a San Francisco law firm for the last nine years, growing it from a solo practice to a busy group of attorneys. I volunteer my time with Lutheran organizations, consulting on marketing teams to improve their online presence. On paper, I look like a leader. By email, I sound like a leader. But in person, I don’t look like a leader. When you meet me, you learn one quirk: I do all of this from my home on the East Coast where I homeschool my daughters, so I’m likely wearing blue jeans, t-shirt and sneakers at my laptop. I have no one in my home besides children to impress and I feel constricted in clothes I can’t bend in or fear staining. Since I’ve been telecommuting for years now, my wardrobe has devolved into a capsule wardrobe of faded machine washables. And for the most part, this doesn’t bother me. That is, until I meet other leaders who dress “the part.”
I clearly perceived these well-dressed women at the WLI event as LEADERS. Their presence commanded the room. I looked down at my shoes and wondered if they thought the same of me. Are they more of a leader than I am simply because of how they are dressed? Maybe the pumps do matter. Our society seems to suggest as much.
The motivational speaker Brian Tracy famously said, “Dress for success. Image is very important. People judge you by the way you look on the outside.” But how we define success and who we are seeking to impress dictates how we dress for it.
1. Define Your Success
There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. – 1 Corinthians 12:5-6
I realize now that I felt self-conscious around those other leaders at the WLI event because I failed to recognize that not all leaders need to dress to command a room and not all leaders define success the same way. We are all leaders, but we have been called to serve in a wide variety of roles and professions (1 Peter 4:10-11). Each profession defines success differently and dictates wardrobe decorum differently. A college professor may define success as becoming Dean, or a young lawyer may define success as becoming managing partner. In the professions of academia and law, success requires dressing up in a way that projects authority to impress others. And there is plenty of evidence proving it works.
Recent studies in the Journal of Experimental Psychology and Social Psychological have shown that dressing up boosts the wearer’s perceived power, giving them confidence to negotiate more effectively and think more abstractly.
But what if you work in a profession like early childhood education in which a sophisticated wardrobe can actually hinder success? Stylists warn about dressing up to the point of intimidating others. Toddlers seek teachers that are approachable, not starched. So, are preschool teachers unable to effectively lead because they can’t dress up in the same way a lawyer or executive does? Obviously not. The “part” they dress for is their classroom, not a boardroom. So obviously clothing, in itself, does not make a leader. But we still need to wear something. How do we know what outfit is best for our leadership style and position?
When we choose clothing, we’re thinking about form and function. Form being the shape, comfort and capability of the pieces, and function being the intended purpose of the outfit. We try an outfit on and approve of the form: it looks flattering, slims the waist, lengthens the leg. But what about that function: Why do we like the look of the outfit? Is the intent to impress others? And if so, who? Who is our judge?
2. Identify Your Judge
Do not look on his [Saul’s] appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. – 1 Samuel 16:7
In 1 Samuel, we learn that Saul had a handsome physique and wore royal clothes, which by societal standards should have made him a logical candidate for the position of power. He was dressed for success. But God wasn’t looking for those characteristics in the next leader of Israel. Instead God chose little David, because of his heart, not his wardrobe. So, when Brian Tracy says people judge you by the way you look on the outside, he’s completely right. People do. But people aren’t the judge we should be impressing. God is, and he’s not looking at our shoes.
Dress in a way that gives you confidence to fully command your role in whatever profession you work. But be wary of dressing up with the sole intent to impress people around you because, while they may judge you, they don’t control your destiny. Proverbs 31:30 advises, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” Our physical beauty and attractive wardrobe may carry us a distance on this Earth, but they are not the lasting qualities that matter most. God knows exactly what role we are going to fulfill to his glory, and He knows how high up that professional ladder we will climb. We can certainly wear pretty clothes that impress our coworkers and boss, but our wardrobe can’t guarantee that next promotion.
My coworkers can’t see me when I work from home, so I dress in clothes that feel comfortable and unrestrictive to me, to both work on my laptop and engage with my young daughters who do see me every day. Blue jeans and sneakers have become my style, and they have been serving me well in the unique leadership opportunities God has put before me. I do not need to compare myself to other leaders because they are dressing in their style for their unique leadership opportunities. How does your unique style serve you as a leader?
3. Define Your Own Style
Some women prefer wearing pumps, others sandals, and yet others, sneakers. God doesn’t care which pair you wear. Define your own style based on what makes you feel comfortable, confident and capable for the tasks before you. John the Baptist felt most comfortable, confident and capable wearing camel furs during his ministry. That was his thing. If you are an executive engaging with other professionals and feel most capable in a suit, wear the suit. That is your thing. And, if you are like me and work from home and feel capable to tackle life in blue jeans, wear the jeans.
But as you dress in whatever comfortable, confident, capable outfit you choose, take Ephesians 6:10-18 to heart:
Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. – Ephesians 6:10-18
Our Earthly wardrobe will one day be eaten by moths, but the full armor of God will endure eternally and it looks good on everyone.
Allison Baltzersen serves on the WLI Marketing and Communications work team as the social media and online presence coordinator.
According to Linda Maris, we need two things to make us good Christian leaders: to understand ourselves as unique creations of God and to rely on Him guide us through the right path. Read on…
What does it look like to be a woman in a leadership role? How does Christian faith impact leadership? And what happens when you put the two together?
To find out we caught up with Linda Maris who has been the President of the National Christian Foundation, Wisconsin (NCF WI) for the past 8 years. The purpose of NCF is to spread the joy of living a generous life. They work to simplyify charitable giving, multiply the impact of charitable gifts, and to build the Kingdom of God. She holds a B.S. from UW-LaCrosse and a J.D. from Marquette University Law School. Linda is also a speaker at the upcoming WLI National Conference where she will lead a workshop on A Confident L.I.F.E of Generosity – What’s in it for you?
We asked her a few questions about her job and her views on Christian leadership:
What’s the favorite part of your job?
Generosity! Everything that we do at NCF is tied to encouraging individuals to live generous lives. And that makes me strive to be more generous through NCF and in my life!
How would you define Christian leadership?
Christian leadership is the understanding and application of two important truths—that each of us is individually created and that there are people and possessions that are placed in our care. Much has been written about Steward Leadership. First, Christian leaders embrace and use their unique God-given gifts and don’t focus on who or what they are not. Second, Christian leaders wisely steward what has been entrusted to them. The organizations and positions where we have been placed are not ours but God’s. God is the one who opens doors, provides opportunities, grows the organizations, and ensures the success. This realization took tremendous personal pressure off of me. My role is to simply nurture and care for the many assets of NCF WI—donors, relationships, Board, staff, budget, facilities, time, etc.…
How do you bring your Christian values into your work?
It is no longer an issue! NCF is a Christian organization and fortunately my life and work are totally integrated. I pray a lot and try to serve with the love of Christ.
Can you remember a specific experience where you relied on your Christian faith or values to lead you through a tough decision or important task?
I have learned that if I am feeling uneasy or stressed about a decision I need to make, I need to take a pause because God is not in it and I need to wait on Him. Conversely, there have also been times when I should have been anxious about certain circumstances, but was not, and rested in the fact that God must be in it and was already working it out!
Looking back, is there a time on your leadership journey where you perhaps felt uncertain about the future, but God had a bigger plan?
Definitely, in the years leading up to NCF WI. I felt that God was preparing me for something much different than the practice of law. I prayed a lot about God’s purpose for my life and the consistent answer was to just be patient. It payed off because had I initiated my own plan it would have been a much different story!
Is there a passage in scripture that resonates with you as a Christian woman in leadership?
I have always been encouraged by Romans 8:28 which reassures me that God works for the good in my life regardless of how bad things may seem. After moving from the legal profession to NCF WI, I realized how applicable this passage was to my work. As leaders, we can personally carry the weight of success for our organization, but when things don’t go as we have planned we can rest knowing that we don’t always see God’s bigger picture.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
What most prepared you to be a Christian leader in the workplace?
Relying on God in all I do. God is the secret sauce for all Christian leaders! I now realize that all I have are gifts from God—my calling to NCF WI, life experiences and opportunities, education, personality, intellect, strengths, and leadership ability. I cannot take any credit for these gifts but can strive to use them to the best of my ability.
What is the most important piece of advice you would want to pass along to other Christian women in leadership?
Research shows that becoming an exceptional leader is half nature (your DNA) and half nurture (what you learn). This is good news because we can control a lot on how we lead. Start by understanding how you are wired. I have learned much about myself, how I make decisions, what drives me, and how I lead from self-assessment tools. You can take advantage of these self-assessment tools and embrace who you are and the strengths that God has uniquely given to you. Then commit to becoming a better leader. The resources are vast: books, conferences, websites, organizations. Enjoy the journey!
Linda Maris is the President at National Christian Foundation Wisconsin. She serves families & women, businesses, financial service advisors, ministries and churches with their charitable giving needs. Her vision is to continue to spread the message of generosity so that all can “excel in the grace of giving”.
Generational studies are all the rage right now. Over the past five years in particular, people have spent a lot of time speculating about the differences between generations and what impact those differences have on social, economic, and religious levels. At the moment, one of the most talked-about generations—in both positive and negative ways—is the millennial generation (our generation). Millennials are defined as anyone born between the year 1980 and 1997 (give or take a year or two depending on the study). Most recently millennials made headline news as they officially surpassed the baby boomers as the largest (by population) living generation in the United States!
You may be asking yourself, “What does this information have to do with the workplace or with ‘workplace connections’?” Well, at some point in your life you will find yourself sitting across the interview table from a millennial. You might be the one hiring or you might be the one hoping to get a job. In either of those situations, it would be helpful to know a little bit about the generation you will be working with in order to create a more positive work environment.
The thought of working with millennials might actually be something that worries you. After all, we’ve all heard the stereotypes about them: they’ve been called the “me, me, me” generation, lazy, entitled, self-obsessed, and even narcissistic. Who would want to work with someone like that? However, they also have been given some positive stereotypes. People have called them open-minded, generous, self-expressive, upbeat, definitely tech-savvy, and passionate about social causes. We promise…they aren’t all as scary as you might think!
So let’s get real. Have you ever wondered if there is any truth behind the stereotypes about millennials? Have these stereotypes positively or negatively affected your desire to ever work with this generation? Do you think these stereotypes affect the millennials’ abilities to work with other generations and vice versa? Have you ever wondered what stereotypes about older generations might be affecting the millennials’ desire to work with them? And at the end of it all, what kind of example are we setting for future generations by letting different stereotypes affect how we all work together?
Regardless of whether or not any of the stereotypes are true, the fact that they exist has already affected the ability of different generations to work together. Each generation already has a pre-conceived idea about the other. In some instances that has helped workplace connections, and in others it has hurt them. Regardless of your generation, we can all benefit from the perspective of different generations in the workplace. Better perspective allows us to more effectively connect with and support one another, creating a healthier work environment. How do we gain this perspective? By talking together.
Rachel Morton is a graduate of Concordia University Wisconsin’s Master of Church Music program, serves as Assistant Worship Director at St. John’s Lutheran Church in West Bend, Wisconsin. She directs all traditional worship services and musical groups, serves as primary organist, collaborates in the writing of school chapel services, and oversees the Women’s Retreat Committee.
Rebekah Karolus is a graduate of Concordia University Wisconsin with a degree in both Theology and Lay Ministry. She currently serves as the Director of the Sr. High Youth Ministry, College Ministry, Young-Adult Ministry, and Women’s Ministry at St. John’s Lutheran Church in West Bend, Wisconsin.
Come to their presentation, “Workplace Connections: The Challenges and Blessings of Being a Millennial and Working with One” at the Gifted to Influence Conference in Milwaukee, WI September 29 – October 1. There you will gain valuable perspective on generational differences as well as some practical tools that you can use right now within your various vocations to help strengthen your workplace connections.