Early in my career I cared a lot more about a few things that are less relevant to me now. I carefully chose my dress standards based on a perception of how this could improve my success. Yes, I wanted to fit in but I believed it also played a part in my steps towards achieving success. As a male it meant a tie, and or a suit, on most occasions. But there was something missing. When I think about impact, my outfit really had less significance than I thought. To be honest I think it was more helpful to me than to others. It was like a suit of armour hiding true vulnerabilities that apparently don’t exist for the “well dressed.” Maybe that was helpful for me at the time and what I needed.

What has the greatest impact though is to plan for success, speak for success, behave for success. Armour is stronger when it includes resilience, confidence and being self assured. An ability to connect, to be authentic, to be nice, or to behave badly even, has nothing to do with the clothes I am wearing. I frequently wear a suit but for different reasons. I no longer need the superficial armour.

How does “dress for success” connect to international schools?

Dress for success
Dress for Success

What to Wear to Dress for Success

Yes of course it is important to dress well and dress professionally but arguably this is quite superficial as compared to other less tangible things you might wear. How you wear a smile, confidence, a good attitude, empathy, charisma, empathy and at times even complete silence and anonymity will have greater impact. All of these are important. Early in my leadership pathway my dress was arguably a form of armour that gave me confidence. At times it had impact on others to create status or posture but on balance, my focus, in time became much deeper than that. I learnt that there were things that would have greater impact.

In truth, today I have a range of suitable dress standards that match my occasion.

First impressions: dress a little higher.

A close and connected relationship: relax and dress a little lower.

Understand the culture. Understand the purpose of the meeting. You will look pretty silly in a 3 piece suit in the desert or the tropics. Asia, the Middle East, The UK, Africa, Australia all have different social norms and conventions. I wear a suit, at times, in all of those locations but not just for the sake of convention. Focus on behaviours and having impact.

Dress for Success at Interviews

Your interview for a leadership position should also match the status of the position. Hard to overdress for an interview. On this occasion wear your very best. Match the position and standards of your workplace. Dress for success might have very direct implications for a short meeting, an elevator pitch or an interview but don’t ignore that you are just window dressing. I have not been on the other side of an interview panel for a long time but I know that I want the panel to talk about what I said and not what I wore.

Remember, people wont remember, or care, what you wear after the first impression is gone. What you say and your impact is lasting.

Dress for success
Dress for Success – What does it really mean?

What is my key message to Dress for Success?

Focus on behaviours and your own personal development.

Men versus Women?

What should women wear? Men, stay out of it. I think they’ve got that. That is an article and set of advice best not provided by a man. (I will stay in my lane)

Your Office

When I first started out I cared a lot about seating arrangements, furniture and the environment. The important rule I created was never to talk across a desk or use my desk to create a divide and positional power. I had to have another place that was less threatening to engage in “meaningful conversations that did not abuse the power of my position.” Yes, some leaders might do that but for many leaders it is just a piece of furniture. I prefer a more comfortable setting but authenticity, connection, loyalty and trust is not created or blocked by furniture. A sterile and superficial office sends that very same message to your visitors. Let’s focus more deeply on behaviours that create atmosphere of authenticity. I really don’t think it matters as much as people might think, especially if behaviours are in complete contrast to that.

My first business card was a really big deal. Now I hardly use them. Even in China where it is quite customary to do so, I have found them less important. Job titles can mean a lot to some staff. I once made the mistake of allowing a colleague to choose his own. It took them 2 weeks and then they wanted to modify it after a month. Sometimes we are looking at our feet instead of the mountains.

Marketing – does “Dress for Success” apply?

In marketing I am often critical of “shiny objects.” We are referring to the use of famous brand names, influencers, previous academic grades (depending on how they are presented), fancy facilities (especially lobbies) and grand claims about the pedigree of heads of school or teachers. In truth these are all short term games used to window dress the school but they will be short lived. The focus needs to be on quality education, every day. Parents talk. They will share genuine stories with their friends about their satisfaction, or lack thereof. Do a great job and then shine a light on that work. The great schools that have “legacy” have built these reputations through long lasting behaviours and practices.

Dress for success matters in school marketing. Present the school well, professionally and authentically but also focus on the signature experiences that reflect good practice.

Step one: Look good.

Step two: be good. (Much more important)

Tattoos, Piercings and Hairstyles

An interesting topic. Personally I will not make any clear judgement or provide direct advice on this other than to remind you that you are not in control of social norms or the culture of acceptability that others share.

“I should be able to dress or wear whatever I want!” “Dress for success” should mean “Dress for my own comfort and function.”

“Ok!”

Please know that not everyone feels the same way. Your personal stance or tactical position might influence people around you but culture takes decades or even centuries to change. The truth is, some employers will not hire you and some professionals will not respect you if you do not match the paradigm. Move on, or adjust. There are only two choices. As someone who has worked in more than 25 countries and visited 59 I am constantly amazed at people who believe they can change the attitudes of millions, overnight, or in just one conversation, or by what they wear to work on a Tuesday. I don’t deny that some values in different locations might also not match mine, but know your audience. Understand that your behaviours and appearances will be judged and find a place that matches your view. You have influence with all of your behaviours and a denial of local cultural norms is a big mistake.

I respect everyone’s right to choose to wear or present in any way they want. But also, realistically understand that everyone perceives these things differently. Find a place that makes you comfortable and allows you to achieve your personal goals.

Dress for success
Dress for Success

What Does Science Tell Us?

My position that behaviours matter more than appearance remain’s central to my beliefs, however In a recent study by Thomas Maran it was found that formal attire can lead to assumptions of a leader being prototypical but not charismatic. He also found that “leaders’ charisma and approval were higher when a person’s clothing style contrasted their organisation’s culture.” When looking at a sample of CEOs of Fortune 1000 companies. “Findings lend support to the notion that leaders can manipulate their style of attire to actively shape their followers’ impressions of themselves.” (Source)

This might be true on a superficial level but the uniform or clothing does not lead to the behaviour or a change in work culture. It reflects a desire for complete authenticity . It is the behaviours that have impact. Those who do not know the leaders well might make these assumptions walking past them in a corridor or seeing their image in a magazine or social media but authentic engagement has real impact. ‘Out of the box’ thinking can happen in any clothing. Schools are very dependent on interpersonal skills, relationships and culture. Great leaders are not intentionally playing games to dress for success.

“What comes first, the clothes or the behaviour?”

Greg Parry, CEO

The long game is to focus on your own personal development, character and values. There is a reason why the most successful leaders in the world dress however they want to.

In the context or situation they find themselves and for the purpose they are trying to achieve it, they create impact and they impress. Mark Zuckerberg was never a school Principal. He would never have started a career in that profession wearing t-shirts. It would not have matched the social norms. He does now wear a suit sometimes. Principals dress down too,. This is not where our energy should be though.

Dress for success 👉 Impress for success

If you truly want to be successful you need to impress.

Leaders impress, through genuine actions and impact, for success.

If you wear a fun shirt, or a formal suit, but you do not impress professionally, you are not impressive.

Let’s have genuine impact through great leadership behaviours!


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Global Services in Education is a company led by education experts. They are proven education leaders who know how to set up and manage international schools. GSE can lead the project from the initial idea to set up and full management. Kindergarten, Primary, Middle and High School, Universities and Adult education.

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“I love great food and I love beautiful restaurants but that doesn’t mean I should set up and operate a restaurant. Everyone has been to a school and many have sent their children to one but that does not mean they are fully qualified and have the skills to guarantee the school’s success. The key difference between a great school and a failing school is its educational leadership. GSE has developed a reputation for being an invaluable bridge between education and business, particularly in unique cultural contexts.” Greg Parry, CEO.
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throughout Australia, the Middle East, the United States, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and China. Recognised for his numerous contributions in the education arena, Greg has received the Ministers Award for Excellence in School Leadership based on improvements in school performance and a range of successful principal training and leadership development programs, as well as the School of Excellence Award for Industry/School Partnerships and the School of Excellence Award for Technology Innovation. His company GSE (Global Services in Education) has been recognised as having the Best Global Brand in International Education 2015 and 2016. Considered one of the premier experts in his profession, Greg has trained teachers and principals throughout the world in areas such as critical thinking, language development and leadership. His expertise in school start up projects, leadership and curriculum development, has made him a sought after authority in these disciplines.

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