It was hot last week in my hometown of Chicago, and many people downtown were dressed minimally. That's fine for those who don't need to interact with clients or customers, but many people do have to be ready for meetings. This came to mind when I spoke recently with the administrative assistant of the chairman of a Fortune 500 company.
We talked about manners and lack of respect for others and how those two things seemed to be in short supply these days. Dressing inappropriately is disrespectful to clients and colleagues.
I have been reading a book about success recently, and one of the points it makes is that attire lets customers know how important they are. "Don't succumb to the lure of `business casual,' " writes author Jeffrey Fox in How to Become a Rainmaker: The Rules for Getting and Keeping Customers and Clients. "Your dress should signal confidence, success, expertise, sensitivity, professionalism and attention to detail."
Fox notes that the late President Reagan had such respect for the Oval Office that he never entered it unless he was dressed in a suit and tie. He suggests that customers will appreciate this kind of attitude. "Your customer will re-elect you, sale after sale," he writes.
To digress for a moment: The term rainmaker is a person who sells more than anyone else or whose connections lead to sealing big deals. Fox's book tells how companies need to cater to these individuals if they want to succeed. Not all rainmakers have the best manners in dealing with colleagues, but the point is, once out in the world, they know how to operate. As Fox says: "If you have a rainmaker or rainmakers in your organization, you are fortunate. It matters not if your rainmaker is a prima donna, an independent loner, or difficult to `manage.' It matters not if your rainmaker doesn't play by the rules, is indifferent to your policies, or is always late with expense accounts. What matters is the rainmaker's ability to ring a cash register, to put money in the till, to bring in new clients. As long as the rainmaker obeys the laws of God and man, and stays within budget, you must let him make rain."
But getting back to dressing right, the point is about showing respect and caring for others. The weather outside shouldn't matter. Dressing like a slob shows you don't really care about colleagues. If you want to be considered a professional, you need to dress like one.
Friday may be casual day for most of corporate America, but for rainmakers, there is no dress-down day. This doesn't mean to dress like a swell, with the fanciest clothes in the world, but you need to dress "buttoned up and professional," Fox writes.
Dressing like a professional means a suit and tie for men and dress suit or dress for women. Dressing this way makes you feel more professional and therefore can help you act that way.
But that isn't the end of the story. Even many well-dressed people these days act like louts. Their poor manners affect everything they do and turn off colleagues and customers alike.
My friend at the Fortune 500 company told me that when she goes to church and participates in Holy Communion, she oftentimes sees a husband or male companion charge ahead of a spouse or friend without regard for their welfare. She said, "That type of insensitive behavior really bothers me."
Frankly, we should all be bothered by bad manners. Being considerate of others' needs and wants is theoretically what makes us civilized. But something happened somewhere along the line and good manners these days are rare. If you or anyone else wants to stand out, try good manners and if you don't understand what good manners are, find a book that tells you what they are. You will be an instant hit.
In sales, good manners are a must. There just isn't any argument about that. If you are a man, try opening doors for women, and let them go first when entering an elevator or door. Courtesy is a sign of confidence and self-respect.
People who don't care about others display their insensitivity through bad manners. It all comes down to this, whether in the workplace or anywhere else good manners, dressing appropriately and exuding good will will attract others to you.
Fox takes great pains to spell out proper behavior at gatherings such as cocktail parties, golf outings and lunch meetings.
Part of good manners is to recognize the reason for attending such an event. You aren't a personal friend just shooting the breeze. Don't worry about getting your share of the food and drink or what your golf score is. Pay attention to the client's needs first.
Just treating others with respect and dignity is a way to start on the path of becoming a rainmaker, who can reap the rewards of bringing the goods home for the company.
And that's a good position to be in.
Emily Post knew her stuff,