Many people, I find, in business,” says Bill McDermott, CEO and author of Winner’s Dream, “tend to delegate things, whether it’s an email or simply the body language like, “You’ve got it!” At some point somebody has to declare, “I have it!” In his Big Think+ video, “Take Responsibility,” McDermott talks about how being a successful leader means projecting an attitude of being in command. Responsibility isn’t just a matter of taking the blame if something goes wrong — it’s also about communicating that you’re the person to be held accountable no matter how things eventually turn out, win or lose. It’s a stance that requires courage and a commitment to investing whatever it takes to achieve a positive outcome.
Wear the Jacket
McDermott has his own shorthand for what stepping up in this way means: “Wear the jacket.” The phrase goes back to his experience applying for his first job as a teen. Being only 15, he felt that he was at a disadvantage waiting in line to hand in his application. That is, until he noticed that one company representative was wearing a green jacket, “and I could tell by his green jacket and his demeanor that he was in charge.” McDermott approached the man directly, handed him his papers and, “I told him that I would work harder for him than anyone else on the line, and all I needed was a chance. By the time I walked back home to my house, he was on the line offering me the job.” McDermott was struck by this experience and what a simple clothing choice had communicated.
What “wearing the jacket” means in practical terms
McDermott isn’t suggesting, of course, that anyone can simply seize power with a change of wardrobe. What he is saying, though, is never to underestimate the value of an executive presence. Clothing may certainly be a component of the image you project — remember Steve Jobs’ iconic black turtleneck? — but it’s just one part of a total package, and a look that works in one industry may not work in another. However, several things universally convey authority: your body language, your word choices, and your overall demeanor. When you effectively embody your position, those who report to you are more likely to share the confidence you have in your judgement and accountability.