We all know that a person’s physical attributes affect the consideration that they receive from others. Psychological research has long demonstrated that people tend to draw certain conclusions about a person based upon physical attributes. The traits about which we draw those conclusions include honesty, intelligence, and compassion—each of which is a trait essential to leadership.
Thus, consciously or unconsciously, we tend to attribute leadership acumen to individuals based upon their physical attributes. This means that some leaders start with more influence than others. Physical attributes that are popularly believed to serve as factors in our perceptions include: age, gender, race, ethnicity, physical attractiveness, and apparent physical disabilities.
A physical attribute that is not often mentioned in popular discussions is stature. Research has indicated that for workers in general, height and salary are correlated. Furthermore, survey data has indicated that CEOs tend to be tall: On average, the CEOs of the largest companies tend to be 2.5 to 3 inches taller than the general population.
What do these findings mean for leaders who have none of the physical attributes associated with positive biases?
As I have written before, I have known numerous executives who were terrible, terrible leaders. They likely achieved and maintained their positions due in part to politics and dysfunctional organizational cultures. Most of them, I notice, also had some of those physical attributes in their favor.
However, of the leaders whom I’ve seen people follow the most, it is not true that a disproportionate number of them have the favored physical attributes. Instead, what stands out to me about those individuals is that they are rich in referent power, which, as I say in the APL seminar, is something that anyone can achieve with their learning from the seminar and their commitment to growth.
What do you think? Please comment below or contact me with your thoughts.