We like to think that people get into leadership roles because of some meritocratic combination of hard work, opportunity, and charisma.
But research reported in the Economist and elsewhere is starting to show how much physical attributes like height, fitness, and tone of voice affect perceptions and performance.
For your prototypical boss, take this description of Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz from the New York Times as an example:
HOWARD SCHULTZ, now 57, is a tall, sinewy man with a toothy grin and a silky sales pitch.
As we’ll see in the below research, Schultz’s physical characteristics embody our perception of the ideal American CEO.
Bosses tend to be tall.
Although only about 4% of Americans stand 6’2” or taller, Malcolm Gladwell found in his book “Blink” that 30% of Fortune 500 CEOs are at least that tall. Height translates into earnings, too: Columbia management professor Sheena Iyengar has found that men earn about 2.5% more per inch of height.
Bosses tend to have deep voices.
The deeper your voice, the deeper your (and your company’s) pockets.
In 2013, researchers from the University of California, San Diego, and Duke University listened to 792 male CEOs — and then compared their vocal frequencies with financials.
As the Wall Street Journal reports, “Researchers found that executives with voices on the deeper (that is, lower-frequency) end of the scale earned, on average, $US187,000 more in pay and led companies with $US440 million more in assets.”
Bosses tend to be fit.
If you hear that a CEO is a long distance runner, you might want to invest in their company, since a study by German researchers Peter Limbach and Florian Sonnenburg linked executive fitness with organizational fitness.
Marathon-running CEOs head companies valued 4% to 10% higher than CEOs who don’t run marathons, Outside Magazine reports. This finding has inspired a daring argument: that physical fitness should be a part of the hiring process.
“The literature suggests that fitness moderates stress and positively affects cognitive functions and performance,” Limbauch and Sonnenburg write in the paper. “Accordingly, we find the strongest effects on firm value in subsamples where fitness is most important, i.e., for CEOs with high workload, above median age, and above median tenure.”
The nauseating takeaway: We’re biased to favour tall, fit, deep-voiced leaders like Schultz — in other words, alpha males.
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