Set The Right Tone

Aug. 18, 2015
Increase your chances for advancement with a positive, "can do" attitude

Whether we are interviewing for an entry-level or promotional position, we do everything in our power to stand out from the other candidates. Sometimes though, we tend to get comfortable after we get the position. (Part of this may stem from the fact that most of us spend way more time in the office than we do at home.) Getting too comfortable is a dangerous mindset because it can lead to poor behavior that has serious consequences. As one of my music coaches once told me, "You are auditioning every moment of your life. Often, you just don't realize it."

This truism applies in your workplace. Your comportment and attitude are major factors in how your subordinates, peers, and management team see you and your worth to the organization. In the beginning of "The Devil Wears Prada," our heroine shows her disdain for the fashion world by her demeanor and by her style of dress. Consequently, she is not accepted by her peers and flounders at work which makes her miserable. In one memorable scene, our heroine laughs when the editor-in-chief cannot decide what color of belt should go with an outfit. Our heroine's behavior does not win any points from those in the room and she gets put down publicly by the editor-in-chief. Our heroine reaches out to the magazine's fashion editor expecting sympathy. But instead, she gets another dress down. The result is that our heroine realizes the error of her ways and makes changes to her style of dress that fits in with her work environment and her position. More importantly, our heroine changes her attitude from one of resentment to accepting and succeeding at any challenge given to her.

You may say, "Well, that is a movie." No, this is real life. Due to liability issues, no one is going to tell you that your appearance or attitude is keeping you from a promotion or worse, putting your job in jeopardy. So let's discuss further some aspects of comportment and attitude since they are major factors in your ability to set the tone and achieve success in work and in life.

How to achieve success

Your comportment includes your style, posture, manners, and bearing. Now, ask yourself the following questions: Who are you? Who is your audience? How do you want to be perceived? Where and how far do you want to go?

An individual who is a champion rodeo rider would answer these questions differently from an individual working in the corporate world. Due to this, a champion rodeo rider would dress differently and have different needs than the corporate business person regarding how he or she should be perceived as well as the steps needed to become a success.

Using the examples of our heroine in "The Devil Wears Prada," the champion rodeo rider, and the corporate business person, we all have a mental image as to what represents a pulled-together look for each field. While the looks are different, they are polished, attractive, and clearly identify the wearer with the respective industry. In other words, these looks epitomize the wearer's brand. When you dress your brand, you are helping your subordinates, peers, and management see you in the same light. As the saying goes, "In order to get in, you have to fit in." However, characteristics that should never change from one industry to the next are being genuine, considerate, and positive.

Make first impressions count

Our outer look is critical because we live in a society where we only have seconds to make a favorable first impression. However, staying power comes from having the right attitude. You will go far if you have a "can do" attitude. Having a positive approach can be tough if you are facing a workplace change such as new management or a transfer to a new location. Use challenges such as these as opportunities to learn and grow. If you are able to master new procedures and techniques and then share your expertise with others, you will be seen as a leader by your coworkers and management team. Your optimistic outlook will also be appreciated by your coworkers.

When we think of the terms "can do," "positive," and "leader" we do not think of complainer in the same breath. So it is important when you are facing workplace difficulties, to minimize complaining. While it is hard to resist the temptation, you drag yourself and others down when you complain. If you continue with the negativity, others will distance themselves from you. Being seen as a lone wolf in the workplace tends to diminish your credibility. Credibility is a key component of trustworthiness and being a leader. Without others' trust, you will have a hard time getting others to work with you to achieve a goal.

Lead by example, prepare for the future

Another vital characteristic of a positive attitude is having respect for others. Everyone contributes value in the workplace. You should strive to consider others' opinions and recommendations and use them when possible. Think of this as a solo instrument versus an orchestra. Although a solo instrument can be breathtaking when it is played, an orchestra that is performing a piece has a rich diversity that the solo instrument cannot match. Nothing is more powerful than leading by example.

While you should do the right thing for the right reason, you should be aware that decisions as to who is going to be groomed for promotional opportunities happen way before the opportunity becomes public. Succession planning in large organizations is often years in the making. Behind closed doors, there are discussions about possible candidates for a specific position. These decisions boil down to likely successors that have shown leadership potential.

On a personal level, the most eloquent example of setting the tone for the day and for life that I have witnessed were two fellow train commuters in wheelchairs. Every morning before 6 a.m., rain or shine, these gentlemen who were always dressed in business suits would be waiting to board the train. (Even on Friday casual days, they were professionally attired.) They would greet everyone on the train platform with a smile. Once on the train, they joined their buddies and would talk and laugh for the rest of our journey. Their ability to look polished and greet the day with a smile were and still are an inspiration. You can do it too. Be an inspiration to others by setting the right tone.

A transportation industry consultant, Suzanne Scheideker Cook is the owner of Strategic Ventures. She also co-founded the South Los Angeles Business Leaders Academy. She is a mentor for the University of Redlands School of Business Mentor Program and recently published a book, "A Mentor at Your Fingertips" which is available on