This Secret to Leadership Series began by stating leadership is an affect, an emotional influence that moves group members to action. It’s no secret that our physical characteristics influence people. The secret is the degree to which they do when they assess our leadership competency.
“The Look of a Leader” (The Economist, September 27, 2014) details these characteristics. This influence cuts across demographics and education. As with any subliminal influence, those who believe they are not influenced are the ones most influenced. They don’t take adequate thinking and emotional precautions.
For instance, simply knowing information is wrong doesn’t protect us from its influence. Even childish influences such as people’s names sway scientists when awarding grants. Dice rolls and lunch influence judges’ sentencing decisions. Unsurprisingly, the article concludes, “The evidence is strong that candidates for top jobs can still be undermined by superficial things like posture and tone of voice.”
Among others, the article cites these prominent physical characteristics in leaders:
- Height: Whereas only 3.9% of the American population (and about 7% of males [pdf]) are 6’ 2” or over, 30% of its Fortune 500 CEO’s are.
- Voice Sound: Voice quality accounts for 21% of listeners’ evaluations and content only 11%.
- Deep Voices: Of 792 male CEO’s, those with deepest voices earned $182,000 a year more.
- Physical Fitness: CEO’s in the S&P 500 who had finished a marathon earned 5% more.
To a degree, we can manage some physical characteristics. Fitness is one. Speaking style is another. Upticks in speaking tone at statements’ ends detract significantly from our leadership competency. They’re correctable. Erect posture, square stance and firmly planted feet slightly apart are others.
Military leaders and sports officials are taught to appear decisive even when doubtful. Yet, most leadership and MBA programs ignore leadership’s subliminal aspects. In many ways, learning to act well is critical to leadership.
Yes, being the leader you are feels grand. It does nothing though to combat the primitive, superficial emotions driving leadership selection. It also does nothing to tackle selectors largely believing they are immune to such influences.
In short, if we want to be a leader, we better start acting like one.
This video contains explanations and examples of speaking upticks at end of statements: