It could be said that there are two types of people: the prepared and the under-prepared. We all know of someone that does everything off-the-cuff, by the seat of their pants, always caught off guard, in a fluster, don’t know what day it is, but who somehow gets by. Somehow being the key word. The theme of today’s blog was prompted by the story you may have seen about a guy who was sent along for a ‘casual’ business meeting and turned up in a polo shirt to sit around a small table of seven or eight people, one of who happened to be President Obama. You can read it here.
It was a catalogue of misunderstandings that led to 26 year old solar energy engineer Marvin Lance Futch representing his company around the table with, as he put it, ‘my commander-in-chief’. A misunderstanding that will no doubt have his CEO kicking himself for the rest of eternity. We all know that Mr O is a pretty cool guy who, unlike many of similar status, will happily fist bump with all walks of life. Apparently the Pres had a chat with Mr Futch about his company, whose logo was on his shirt.
Now, this story prompts a couple of thoughts. a) So what? Why has this ‘story’ gone around the world – eight people sat around a table having a meeting – one of whom was the President of the USA, another was a guy in a polo shirt? What does it say about us, and society, that so much emphasis is placed on how we dress? That someone steps a little outside what is considered ‘normal’ and the world gasps. Marvin Futch wasn’t in beachwear, a suit of armour, dressed as a clown, or naked. In fact, he was dressed accordingly; he was going to a ‘casual’ business meeting, and in his line of work he wears a polo shirt with the company logo on it.
In a work environment there are rules about clothing, some unwritten. You just get to know them, usually by copying everyone else, or you are informed at interview. Clothing at work is used to protect and to send a message – I belong to this team or company, I am a member of staff, I am professional, I know what I’m talking about, I am better than someone else. It’s why sales people dress the way they do – to make that positive first impression. Likewise, company directors, teachers, engineers, waiters and politicians. It’s a reminder to job seekers that first impressions count. At interview – dress accordingly. We’ve said this many times
in blogs but a client brought up the subject with me on the phone this morning. She couldn’t understand why people dressed sloppily at interview. It sends her the right message – you are not going to be my next employee.
The Futch/Obama story also reminds us of the importance of being prepared, but also the impossibility of being so, when you don’t know the full facts. Both men were dressed appropriately for their line of work. It’s just that Marvin Futch didn’t realise that today was the day he’d be working with the President.
The famous actor David Niven was notoriously nice and polite to everyone he ever met – be they cab drivers, waiters, bell hops, tramps or Presidents. This was not just because he was a chap who was naturally polite and had been brought up to have impeccable manners, there was a practicality to it. He said that, as a rich, successful movie star, you should ‘always be nice to people you meet on the way up, because you’ll never know when you’ll meet them again on the way down.’ It’s possible that it was precisely this outlook that ensured that for Niven there never was a down staircase. The ‘what goes round comes around’ syndrome. It meant that David Niven was always prepared for whatever was around the corner. It’s a good tip for workers and job seekers to be so too.
Photo of President Obama courtesy of www.whitehouse.gov