Bankers who want to make it to the top might take some lessons from people who are already there.

The high and the mighty display subtle characteristics not often found in lower-level managers. And the good news, says Mark Patten, senior vice president of Fleet Investment Services in Albany, N.Y., is that those qualities can be learned.

"I call it positive plagiarism," he says.

For one thing, senior executives are more gracious, says one middle manager. In meetings, they make sure everyone is introduced and they acknowledge your accomplishments, she says.

Lower-level people seem more focused on the task or on themselves. "We're more worried if we're doing O.K."

This obliviousness may account for another difference she notices: Senior people in her bank just look more polished. They seem well put together, while people a few rungs down display untucked shirts and ties that are slightly too short.

But you don't have to wait until you become president or chairman to take pride in your appearance, says former banker Tony Lord, now a recruiter in New York with A.T. Kearney.

You can see it in 22-year-olds who take time selecting clothes and maintaining the basics, like polished shoes, he says. "You don't have to pay $700 for a suit."

Looking the Part

The lesson here? Take more time with grooming. And, as career counselors advise, dress the part of the job you would like to have.

Another thing: Those who really have it don't need to flaunt it.

When others are posturing about who they know and what country club they belong to, really powerful people will often sit back and choose not to complete, says Madelon Maupin, manager of the Los Angeles office of outplacement firm Lee Hecht Harrison.

They may stay out of the conversation for a while but then jump in and change the subject, to level the playing field for everybody.

Making an Entrance

Highly successful people even enter a room differently, according to D.A. Benton, author of "Lions Don't Need to Roar - Using the Leadership Power of Professional Presence to Stand Out, Fit In, and Move Ahead," (Warner Books).

As she says in her book, they "walk into a room and quickly take stock - sizing up the situation, noticing the people around them, and getting a sense of the general mood or what might be on people's minds.

Aura of Self-Confidence

"They move directly and deliberately toward the person to whom they wish to speak and frequently make a comment before they even shake hands. They emanate an aura of selfconfidence and benign control when they make entrances."

And, they don't rush. In fact, they pause - that's right, pause.

"Nervous, self-conscious people hurry," says Ms. Benton. "Confident people pause."

The reasons? To nonverbally announce their presence. To calmly size up the situation. To gain control of an audience before giving a speech, and to give people a chance to refocus.

And speaking of helping people refocus, here's a tip for introducing yourself that some very high-powered people know: Don't start with your name.

Waste a few seconds with a throw-away comment, says Mary Ellen Drummond, a communications consultant based in San Diego. It takes people that long to check you out visually, so say your name last to make it more memorable.

An introduction might go something like this: "So good to meet you. I run the ABC department at XYZ Bank, and my name is ...."

Body Language

Here are other tips for orchestrating a powerful physical image when you're speaking before a group:

* Keep your feet 12 inches apart and balance your weight evenly. This way you look firmly planted.

* Don't be afraid to take up space. Keep elbows away from the body, hands out of the pockets. Avoid the frontal "fig leaf" position.

* Don't start a speech with an apology. Why open with a downer? And by all means, don't whack the microphone and say, "Is this thing working?"

* And watch voice inflection. Some people - women especially - end sentences with an upward inflection. It sounds like you're not sure of yourself and you're asking for affirmation.

How much confidence would you have had in Walter Cronkite if he had ended his broadcasts on a high note, saying, "That's the way it IS?"

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