In a study at Northwestern University, subjects who were told that the white coats they wore were doctors’ coats outperformed by nearly 30% those who were told they were wearing painters’ coats.  Both cognition and attention improved dramatically on the various tests taken by those wearing "doctors’ coats." 

It has long been demonstrated that what you wear effects others’ perceptions of you–"women who dress in a masculine fashion during a job interview are more likely to be hired, and a teaching assistant who wears formal clothes is perceived as more intelligent than one who dresses more casually"–and also that your situation changes your perceptions of others–people holding a hot drink in their hand rate others personally warmer, and those holding an iced drink rate others colder. 

The bigger question has been whether any of these factors–how you dress or your personal situation–actually changes your performance, as opposed to perceptions.  This study suggests that it does–that looking like a doctor in fact makes you more attentive and thorough than does looking like a painter.  "We think not just with our brains but with our bodies," Dr. Adam Galinsky, who led the study, said.

Dr. Galinsky also participated in another interesting study several years ago. A collaboration between U.S. and Dutch researchers found that people who feel powerful in their roles are less likely to make on-the-job errors — like administering the wrong medication to a patient.  Therefore, the bottom of the workplace totem pole may be where more mistakes are madeat least in part because of feelings of powerlessness there, rather than lack of ability, the study said.  The recommendation was to give people a sense of power, even through small overtures like requesting suggestions to management, in order to promote higher competence. 

Finally, Sally Linkenauger and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tubingen, Germany gave golfers a putter and asked them to estimate the size of the hole they were aiming at. Those randomly told that PGA player Ben Curtis had used the putter estimated the hole to be 9% larger in diameter than did the control group, and they also sank 32% more putts. Similarly, when smaller holes were projected around a hole so that the real hole looked larger, golfers sunk more putts than when larger holes were projected to make the real hole look smaller.

The point of all three of these studies is the importance to your performance of what you believe–your own perceptions are more important than whatever the facts may be. If you are feeling smart or important or inspired, you will do better at whatever your endeavor is than if you feel unanalytical, powerless and ordinary. Or as Ms. Linkenauger of the putting studies told the Harvard Business Review, "If it makes you more confident and motivated, it will help you perform better."

So it is not fear or anxiety that will move you or your troops forward the most, but taking in hand that invisible pro putter and white coat and sense of powerfulness.