Knowledge or Appearance? It Does Make a Difference

Marcia Satryan

What makes a bigger impact on how a leader is perceived?  Their knowledge or the way they look?  That is a question facing many co-workers of Se. Donna Jones.

Sr. Donna was born the youngest of six children to devout Catholic parents.  She spent her formative years in catholic schools and upon her high-school graduation, entered into a religious order as a novice nun.  Seeing the potential in Sr. Donna, her congregation sent her to a catholic university to study nursing.  Upon graduation, she returned to practice in the hospital in which her congregation owned and operated.  Continuing to see her potential, she pursued her master’s degree in nursing and leadership.  Upon returning to the hospital, she assumed a leadership role at the hospital.

Through her career, Sr. Donna was extremely intelligent, goal-oriented, driven and motivated to succeed.  She had highly defined problem-solving skills and an intimate knowledge of the organization, since she was part owner.  Her leadership skills were evident in her positive performance evaluations.  Her nurses were excellent and were valued in the community for their volunteer activities.

A very apparent downside to Sr. Donna’s leaderhsip ability was her lack of social judgement skills.  To be an effective leader, theorists suggest that in addition to knowledge leaders need to demonstrate above average people skills.  She was considered by arrogant, aloof and at times, non-caring.  It was believed that she was able to accomplish things because people were intimidated by her.

One of the reasons that people felt intimidated by Sr. Donna was because she continued to wear her habit, dress and cross during a time when nuns were trying to better integrate themselves into general society.  People who have had experiences with nuns or sisters when they were young may continue to have negative feelings towards them.  In Elizabeth Kuhns’ 2007 book, “The Habit: A History of the Clothing of Catholic Women”, it was noted that the habit has been used to instill unquestioning conformity.  The use of this type of clothing attire may have contributed towards Sr. Donna’s sense of being superior to others.

So this leads to the question, just how much can a person’s appearance or clothing impact how they are perceived by others?  Can their uniform, in this case, a nun’s habit, be so strong that it overtakes other leadership skills?  Or can that uniform cause such intimidation that workers will do anything for that person in uniform?

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