Bridge over ocean
1 November 2014 CFA Institute Journal Review

The Look of a Leader (Digest Summary)

  1. Marc L. Ross, CFA

Physical attributes often play a role in an individual’s path to leadership.

What’s Inside?

How an individual looks, speaks, and acts can often be an indication of his or her ability to ascend to a top position of leadership. Leaders tend to possess specific vocal and physical attributes and postures.

How Is This Research Useful to Practitioners?

Leaders in the corporate world do not just have the top job in common. Certain shared traits burnish their image and help them reach the top of the business world. Malcolm Gladwell, for example, observes that 30% of Fortune 500 CEOs — compared with 3.9% of the general population — are 6 feet 2 inches or taller. Physical fitness and good posture are common attributes of successful leaders as well. The sound of a person’s voice delivering a speech appears to matter more than the message itself. The inverse is true as well; those who do not have these qualities are less likely to be seen as capable of strong leadership.

Assessing the viability of a candidate for leadership is often reduced to an appraisal of the aforementioned features among a highly qualified pool of candidates with perfect credentials and experience. Superficiality may often be the tiebreaker.

Abstractor’s Viewpoint

How an individual looks can often matter more than what he or she knows or can do. In an increasingly competitive economy, superficial differences will often determine who moves forward. If only merit were the most important factor.

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