I was sitting in a meeting to watch one of my clients deliver a presentation to a group of twenty senior leaders, including the CEO, of a Fortune 200 company. About five minutes into his "pitch," an attendee raised his hand, was recognized by my client, and then asked a well-articulated, pointed question. My client's response: "Dude... what are you talking about?!" Actually, it sounded more like this: "Duuuuuuuuuuuuude... what are you talking about?"

The questioner then re-asked his question, and my client answered it. No harm/no foul, right? Hardly! After the meeting, I saw two separate, small groups of attendees congregated outside, in the hallway, laughing and commenting about the "dude" comment and my client.

Have we reached a level of dismissive informality in organizational life that this kind of comment should be acceptable? If the "dude" remark is OK in a room of senior executives, where is it NOT acceptable? Just where is the line - the "dude line" - that is unacceptable to cross?

Another example: Wastin' away again in Margueritaville

I was on an elevator in the corporate office of one of my large clients riding from the top floor to the ground level. On the way down, we stopped on the ninth floor to pick up another passenger. The elevator door opened and there he was - a guy dressed like he was on his way to play beach volleyball - but I knew better. It wasn't casual Friday; it was summertime, which meant casual everyday.

He was dressed in flip-flops, a T-shirt adorned with a picture of a surfboard, baggy shorts and wrap-around shades. He was lookin' cool - for a picnic or a trip to the beach. I turned to him with a straight face and asked, "So, where's your parrot?" He smirked, mumbled something, got off part of the way down and headed for the Starbucks located in the building, obviously to meet other cool lookin' dudes for caramel macchiatos and to share tales of life in Margueritaville.

Ten years from now, that guy is going to be wondering why his career never took off. If I run into him then, my response will be the same as now: "Hello, it's an OFFICE!"

Shortly after this encounter, I mentioned it in passing to a senior leader at the company, who said, "I know. It's really gotten out-of-control. We need to tighten the standards in our dress code." My response was, "No you don't. You don't want to punish the many to control the few. You just need to enforce the code you have."

A while later, I was meeting with a prospective client, a middle manager and aspiring executive at a Fortune 500. He came to our initial "meet and greet" dressed in blue jeans (not fairly new blue jeans but rather "just having mowed the lawn" blue jeans), running shoes and a $10 collarless T-shirt. When I introduced myself, I shook his hand firmly. His grip was uncertain and droopy. During our discussion, his eyes never once met mine.

At the conclusion of our discussion, he inquired, "So Rand, based on initial impressions, can you recommend anything I might be able to do right now?" I said: "Yes, as a matter of fact, I can. Allow me to demonstrate my respect for your time and intelligence by being blunt. First, no more blue jeans. Dress like where you're going, not like where you've been. Second, when you're talking to someone, make consistent eye contact and third, your handshake grip ought to give the other party the impression that you're happy to see him, not that you're worried about catching his cold."

We seem to have lost, or misplaced, the concept of appropriate business dress, acceptable cleanliness and etiquette in many of our organizations. If you are a leader, you have the obligation to set an example for those who are less well-groomed and whose behavior is better suited to Carlos and Charlie's Cantina than a business office. You also have the right to expect those who report to you to get their sartorial and behavioral acts together.

Copyright 2011 Rand Golletz. All rights reserved.

Author's Bio: 

Rand Golletz is the managing partner of Rand Golletz Performance Systems, a leadership development, executive coaching and consulting firm that works with senior corporate leaders and business owners on a wide range of issues, including interpersonal effectiveness, brand-building, sales management, strategy creation and implementation. For more information and to sign up for Rand's free newsletter, The Real Deal, visit www.randgolletz.com.