My attention is drawn this month to a fascinating piece of research conducted by Exeter University. They examined, in some detail, the weight, height and earnings of UK men and women, and it reveals some ‘awful but true’ unconscious biases.
Amongst their conclusions is the reality that men who are shorter than the national UK average (5’ 9” or 1.75 m) earn an average of £1,500 less than their colleagues. This is not the first time height and leadership have been drawn together. Malcolm Gladwell, in his excellent book ‘Blink – The Power Of Thinking Without Thinking’, revealed some fascinating research from the United States. Again, the context was implicit bias, and Gladwell compared the height of CEOs from Fortune 500 companies versus the rest of the US male population. He found that 58% of the CEOs from Fortune 500 companies, were 6 feet or taller. This is 1 metre 82 cm for our metric friends amongst us and it compared with an average across the US population of 14.5%. In addition, in general in the United States, there are 3.9% of men who are 6’ 2” and this compared with almost a third across Gladwell’s survey sample of Fortune 500 CEOs. Now, you might think: ‘who cares?’
Well, let’s step back for a moment and focus on what it means for leaders today. This is the classic ‘tall poppy syndrome’. Whatever our role at work, all of us are in the business of influence and what I am not suggesting is that men who are less than 5’ 9” wear built up heels. However, what I am suggesting is that no matter our height, weight or size, it is critical for all leaders to convey what I call ‘executive presence’. By that I mean the ability to walk into a room and own it, being able to inspire those around them, whether they are the receptionist or the CEO. If we’re easier to be seen then it’s easier to be heard, and if it’s easier to be heard then it’s easier to influence. Leaders with executive presence radiate confidence. They command attention but do not demand attention. Leaders with executive presence are authentic, project poise and authority, they have high levels of self-awareness so know when they are making an impact and also know when they are missing the mark. Such leaders continue to harness strengths whilst continuing to work on their gaps or flaws.
So, height isn’t important – but executive presence is; it’s how we engage, inspire, motivate, enthuse, harness and retain the talent around us to deliver results.