Many CEOs are known for keeping to rigorous fitness regimens, despite the demands of their job. Some even go so far as to compete in Ironman triathlons in their spare time. That might not be required of everyone, but increasingly, people expect their leaders to be fit. According to a recent study from the centre for Creative Leadership written up in The Wall Street Journal, people think overweight executives are less effective at interpersonal relationships in the office, have poorer job performance, and less leadership ability.
The Journal piece cites experts that claim “staying trim is now virtually required for anyone on track for the corner office.” People have negative stereotypes about the overweight, and think that a lack of health or stamina will negatively impact performance.
Fitness doesn’t directly impact managerial ability, and though top jobs can be demanding, a slightly to moderately overweight person’s physical state isn’t likely to hurt job performance.
What this study really signals is a shift in culture that people hoping to rise through the ranks need to be aware of. Now, the ability to stay fit despite long hours and high stress is seen as a signaling mechanism, showing that a leader has the discipline or time management skills to exercise in the tiny amount of free time they have.
Like waking up and getting into the office incredibly early, it’s the sort of external and very visible behaviour that factors into our impressions and opinions of leaders, often more than we like to think.
As much as we’d like everything to be about the quality of the work itself, external factors and appearance really do matter.
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