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How to sharpen your competitive 'edge'

This year stands to become a watershed moment in modern women’s history. Issues that have been simmering for years are finally coming forward and hard discussions are being held. Opening these doors is allowing women to finally gain more presence across business worlds and governments.

And, as is always the case, women are being more scrutinized in our personal presence because our media instantly places our photos, videos and sound bites on the Internet for the world to see and discuss. How can we be certain we are the author of our own identity? That ‘they’ see who we really are? The answer is, we plan our image and groom it to easily identify our brand. That is, ’this is the ME you get EVERY time.'

I wanted to give you an example of a business woman who exemplifies this well, and so I chose Sheryl Sandberg. Let me tell you and show you why.

Overall, she always looks composed and controlled in photos and on video. Her body movement is calm and poised — no arms flailing, no nervous tics. When she talks with her hands, they are moving to make a point, not fidgeting. And when she speaks from the heart we see her ‘steepling,' putting her hands together touching fingers. This tells us she we can trust her. She looks directly at whomever she’s speaking to.

She wears her hair in the same cut, styled beautifully. Not in a perfect ‘helmet’, but slightly messy illustrating she’s relaxed and approachable. We can all relate immediately. She’s very recognizable because of it. And it remains a constant.

She’s wearing a refined makeup, just enough to look polished. Not so much to be distracting. Even her lip color is just enough to look natural, but not imposing. And her jewelry is minimal, not too much or so big to be distracting from her message, especially if a camera comes in for a close-up.

As she is COO of Facebook and represents their brand on stages around the world, she is very cognizant of her wardrobe. When she’s on an international stage, as at the World Economic Forum in Davos, she’s very aware of cultural differences between countries. Her look is conservative so she can be respectful and respected.

She’s often seen wearing either a suit, or a dress with a blazer, or dress with a tiny cardigan — a conservative, controlled look. Often her outfits are in a darker color (black, blue, or gray) or a permutation of red. Both of these design elements enhance the look of authority. The clean, straight lines of a jacket and dress tell us she’s a consummate professional and aware of her role on this occasion. She’s an authority in her field. It’s her silent armor!

The darker colors express more seriousness (and blue is the color of trust). The red is either a power look or simply a way to separate her from the sea of men’s dark suits. Another aspect I’m sure she keeps in mind is that when she’s on stage, she doesn’t want to blend into the background, she wants to contrast with it. As you can see, she visually pops out from the stage. We can't ignore or dismiss her. The red jacket and dress in the photo above illustrate this. Plus, the red helps her stand out and separate her from the other guests on stage. Note, I did not say “stick out;” I said “stand out” — two entirely different concepts. We want to stand out for our accomplishments, not stick out for our naiveté. Please note her arms are covered — no sleeveless dresses when she's in an international forum where men are wearing business suits.

Note her dress lengths are longer because she knows she’s going to have to sit in a chair on stage. If the skirt is too short, it will embarrass her because it will rise up too far on her leg for civility. She doesn’t want that photo to land on the Internet.

And her shoes are the all-important closed-toe pump. At this level of business gravity, no other shoe will do. Peep-toes or too-trendy will diminish her professional image. Any heel height is acceptable as long as its toe is closed. The toe shape can be round or pointed or almond - just closed – no peep toe. And no flats onstage, ever. Not a power look. Offstage, yes. Onstage, no, not ever.

This breakdown is just the tip of the iceberg on how we can create and manage our professional image. As you can see, the individual details add up to a cohesive, respectful, coherent brand image. And the confidence you gain knowing you are perfectly “suited up” for an event makes for a remarkable personal transformation into your personal power.

Call me if YOU want to learn how more of these tips can be used to give yourself that little ‘edge’ for your professional career – discover your new brand defined and supported by your wardrobe!

#confidence #executive #leadership #personalbrand #personalbranding #womeninbusiness

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