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“It takes all sorts” goes the old saying, but does this apply to industry leaders, or is there a more successful ‘type’ of person as far as image is concerned Bald, tall, beautiful…what makes the difference?

My curiosity regarding this issue recently arose when I googled ‘successful business leader’; this being because I was looking for some images for a slideshow I was creating for a training course. The inevitable happened: the screen was splattered predominantly with men, although there were, to be fair, a few images of women scattered intermittently amongst the ‘business giants’.
Naturally, I’m somewhat unhappy about this and our sector, as we know, is full of shining examples of hugely successful women. For the purpose of this article however, I will (reluctantly) focus on the perception that the stereotypical successful business leader is male. My next question however is does he look a particular way? Is there a more successful ‘type’ of person as far as image is concerned?

It may sound shallow, but looks definitely count; according to the research anyway. Turning to Google again, I asked the question “Are beautiful people more successful? The results were somewhat consistent: good looking people seem to get on better in life. Harvard economist Markus Mobius and Wesleyan University economist Tanya Rosenblat published a paper “Why Beauty Matters” and found that in three different samples of workers, more attractive people consistently earned 12 to 14 percent more than unattractive people — regardless of gender.

Male and good looking; the image is developing, but what other features figure in the leadership stakes? Well, consider the wider business world and you will find that many of the ‘industry heavy hitters’ are bald men. Is this coincidental or is there any science in the notion that the bald head equals success in business?

You may be interested to know that research from the University of Pennsylvania suggests there’s something powerful about having a bald head.
Indeed, in three experiments, researcher Albert Mannes found that

1) men with shaved heads were rated as more dominant
2) men whose hair was digitally removed were perceived as more dominant, taller, and stronger than their authentic selves and
3) men experiencing natural hair loss may improve their interpersonal standing by shaving.

Mannes argues that the shaved-and-dominant link comes from cultural associations, in the same way that being tall and having a deep voice each signal dominance. He says, “In US society … shaved heads are often found on men in traditionally masculine professions,” he writes, “so dominance may emerge through stereotypical associations with these figures.”

What really interested me was the fact that Mannes said he was inspired to do the research when people were more deferential to him after he shaved his head!
If you are reading this as an industry leader with a bald head, it’s not all good news for you I’m afraid. Moreover, Mannes also discovered that while men with shaved heads are seen as more dominant, they’re also perceived as looking four years older than guys with hair. Not only that, but the bald men are found to be less attractive.

To get to those conclusions, Mannes did a number of clever experiments. The first experiment involved participants being shown photos of men with hair and men with shaved heads and asked to rate their levels of dominance and agreeability. In the second experiment, participants were shown pictures of the same men with hair and with their hair digitally removed, so they looked shaved. Finally, in the third experiment participants read identical descriptions of men — except for whether they had thick hair, thinning hair, or shaved heads — and rated them on different aspects of personality, from dominance to agreeability to attractiveness.

Moving on from the hair/no hair debate, I then decided to investigate the possibility that height has a bearing on your business success. Being married to a technical giant of some 6ft 7’’ stature, this was of particular interest to me.

Research findings consistently suggest (but often for different reasons) that both tall men and tall women have a significant advantage over their shorter counterparts. Indeed, one study advocated that the taller you are, the more you earn. In fact, according to that study (it was from the US), a person who is 6 feet tall would be predicted to earn nearly $166,000 more over the course of a 30-year career than someone who is 5 feet 5 inches. (The researchers observed those results even when they controlled for gender.) Perhaps even more importantly, recent research found that taller people are more satisfied with work and with life in general.

As for why exactly taller people should have an edge over the rest of us, researchers have proposed a few fascinating theories.

First of all, there is a school of thought that suggests that taller people actually picked up more social skills whilst in their teen years. Scientists found that your height in adolescence is much more meaningful for your adult career than your current height.

They drew their data from Britain’s National Child Development Survey (NCDS) and the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. To make sure professional success couldn’t be explained by gender or race, the researchers focused specifically on white men, about 4,000 of which reported their height at different ages throughout childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. They were also asked to report their salaries in their 30s.

When the researchers analysed all of the data, they found that, for the NCDS participants, only height at age 16 predicted salaries in the 30s; for the NLSY participants, only height between ages 16 and 23 did. In order to figure out why, the researchers ruled out a number of possibilities by controlling for variables such as family background and health.

Instead, they determined that the link between teen height and adult success has to do with the fact that taller teens are more likely to participate in social activities such as athletics, school clubs, and dating. In doing so, the authors write, they accumulate “productive human capital such as social adaptability” that will help them achieve success down the line. This might be really controversial, but there is another school of thought which suggests that taller people are more intelligent. Scientists found that height predicted success even among three-year-olds taking tests of cognitive ability. In other words, they hypothesize that taller people are inherently more intelligent than shorter people.

The researchers drew their data from a number of British and American longitudinal surveys, including the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, which includes nearly 5,000 participants born in big US cities between 1998 and 2000. When the researchers looked at data from that particular study, they found that taller boys and girls performed significantly better at age 3 on a test in which they had to point to pictures of different words.

According to the paper, one possible explanation for the link between height and cognitive ability is that certain biological growth factors, like the thyroid hormone, simultaneously stimulate growth and neural development. Similarly, the paper says mothers who smoke during pregnancy may end up stunting their baby’s growth and cognitive development.
Next I came across a suggestion that taller children were actually fed better during their childhood. It was interesting to read that because nutrition affects how tall you grow, as well as the development of your cognitive and non-cognitive skills, researchers believe it’s the key factor linking height and success. Moreover, people who had healthier diets as children, they claim, demonstrate higher cognitive ability as well as better social skills — both of which are useful among adults in the workplace.

Finally, many researchers say that our tendency to think of leaders as being tall comes down to evolution. It is said that back in our caveman days, we would have been wise to select tall, strapping people to lead the tribe because they’d be able to physically defend us — and that preference prevails even today. Alternatively, other researchers say that tall individuals may be more likely than shorter people to put themselves forward as leaders.

In conclusion, if you have read this and like me do not have the image that is typical of successful business leader, may I taken this final opportunity to offer you some comfort (and humour) by means of this list of interesting personality traits recently published by the Daily Mail. Leader you may not be, but at least if you own a cat this may well be an indication that you are a highly intelligent person…

1. You are left-handed
2. You are messy
3. You swear a lot
4. You are funny
5. You stay up late
6. You didn’t have sex in your teenage years
7. You are a worrier
8. You are modest
9. You are a cat person
10. You are an older sibling