3 judgements in 30 seconds

Many of us like to think of ourselves as a leader and as exhibiting leadership qualities. Many of us see a leader when we look in the mirror, but do others see that same leader?

Setting aside issues relating to the definitions of ‘leadership’, this question might better be framed as follows – DO PEOPLE SEE US AS WE SEE OURSELVES?

We here is the challenging news. Research has shown time and again that people determine what they see and how they see you in around 30 seconds of meeting you. Further having made the initial determination all input viewed subsequently is seen through the prism of the initial determination.

Having made a subjective decision on the basis of scant information we then view all subsequent information in a way that enables justification of our initial determination.

This is not to say that people do not change their mind over time, but it is to say that such changes are less common and that the degree of change may well be limited. Understanding this involves recognising that we are emotional beings that more often than not use cognitive processes to justify emotional decisions.

This being so, it seems reasonable to explore the basis upon which that initial determination is made. Certainly it is influenced by what they have heard and read previously and any resulting preconceptions (an effect that in the current social media environment might be profound). At the point of meeting however, research suggests that three factors contribute most to the initial determination regarding LEADERSHIP:

  • Appearance
  • Communication
  • Gravitas

There is an unconscious determination as to whether you look like a leader, taking into account:

  • Dress
  • Grooming
  • Posture

There is an unconscious determination on whether you communicate like a leader, taking into account:

  • Content
  • Tone
  • Body language

Finally there is an unconscious determination on whether you have the gravitas of a leader, taking into account:

  • Stance
  • Strength
  • Attitude

Clearly, it is uncommon for people to look at someone and ask themselves consciously – ‘is this person a leader’? It is an unconscious determination and leadership is just one of many factors that determinations are made about involuntarily and almost immediately.


  1. You need to monitor and influence what is being said about you in social media.
  2. You need to recognise that initial impressions rarely change significantly.
  3. You need to manage your appearance, communication and impression of gravitas.

I am not suggesting that everyone should be or suggest they are a leader. What I am saying is that you need to understand that determinations are made quickly and you are best served communication the right impression in that first 30 seconds.

You also need to remember that you are almost certainly like most other people. You too make determinations in 30 seconds and will be well served being aware of this.

This issue will be discussed in more detail on THE D. JOHN CARLSON NETWORK –

D. John Carlson is a behavioural scientist, strategic planner and lateral thinker focusing on branding, marketing and communication. Visit his blog –

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