Did you ever wonder how much physical good looks contribute to success at work? Ever look in the mirror and wish you were taller, thinner, more youthful?

The image of the perfect body is embedded in everyone's brain. Most of us wish we were more than we are. Even the best and the brightest look in the mirror and say, "If only ..."

I heard the following is a true story - you decide.

A woman dies and goes to heaven. While she waits for St. Peter to grant her entrance through the pearly gates, she looks around and all is fine. Then St. Peter calls his guard angels, shakes his head, and points in the other direction. As the woman is being taken away, she was heard crying and repeating, "It's my thighs, I know it, it's my thighs!"

Now, let's look at the data. Is physical charm really that important?

  • A study by Duke University professors indicated that men with square jaws and a strong physical appearance, won the "beauty" contest, or should I say, the casting call, for what real leaders are meant to look like.
  • A landmark study from Cornell University found that when white females put on an additional 64 pounds, wages dropped 9 percent.
  • Research by Daniel Hamermesh at the University of Texas at Austin shows that the best looking, attractive females make about 10% more annually than their less attractive colleagues.
  • Plastic surgeons can make a real profit with this information. Men, wait, don't rush to get a chin re-do. And women, maybe erasing those wrinkles won't get you where you want to go. Studies show that getting a face renovation (aka face lift) only yields an extra five cents per dollar, according Hamermesh's research. Not worth it, says the researcher...you do the math.
  • University of British Columbia research indicates that top leaders are often born in winter or spring. That's because schools tend to hold back the winter-spring birthday children. They then have an advantage of becoming more physically and cognitively developed. This can breed confidence and success that carries into childhood.
  • Research reported in The Economist shows that physical attributes such as height, fitness level, and tone of voice make a difference when picking CEOs. It goes like this, CEOs with deeper voices lead to deeper earnings. Think Howard Schultz from Starbucks. Maybe it's the coffee that makes a difference.
  • Malcolm Gladwell, in his excellent book, Blink, talks about our natural tendency to want to look up to our leaders. This is called an unconscious prejudice. That's one you arrive at without really thinking. This 'blink before you think' factor shows up in making decisions, especially when we meet someone for the first time.

Can you remember when you went to a new job and were introduced to your boss? Most likely, you thought to yourself, "S/he really looks nice, or mean, or autocratic, or is a true jerk."

What made you arrive at those decisions? Something in your brain began to wiggle and wobble to get you to think that thought.

Here is what is MORE important.

Different kind of research. This is intuitive and cannot be put in boxes with numbers. The more important than looks department is...presence.

Think Warren Buffett, he's not 6'4" and his looks may not take your breath away. Think Harry Truman, short guy who made world class decisions and would get lost in any crowd. And then there's Bill Gates, pleasant and somewhat nerdy.

Leave the looks department and go up a few floors to the presence department.

Here's a thought to ponder from a short, unassuming woman who broke all kinds of barriers in her time - physician, Elizabeth Kubler Ross. She was a pioneer in helping people with terminal illnesses find the courage to talk about death and dying. She puts presence in perspective, "People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within."

No change of clothes, of jaw lines, of even weight, can give someone presence. Presence must be earned. It's about self-awareness, caring and a commitment to something bigger than one's own ego.

The big question is, "How do you know a person of presence, of integrity, when you meet?"

Ah, now that would be research worth studying.

Published on: Jul 20, 2017
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