I am short, 4’ 11”, but it has never bothered me. However, I was recently reading an article about entertainers, and they were speaking about how their height has been used against them in their industry. Most of the people in the article were male actors, around 5’ 7” tall, and they spoke about how they were turned down for roles, or even laughed at during auditions because of their height. It made me wonder, does shortness matter in today’s business world and how does it impact leadership.
What I found was surprising. Shortness has been found to affect your emotional state and confidence, which in turn impacts the perception people have on your ability to lead. If we look at power, as an example, Hughes et al. (2012) wrote how people portray power by gestures, staring, touching, crowding personal space and interrupting. Taking this into account, if you are a short person and are interacting with someone taller, you could be easily intimidated. The same would go if you were trying to discipline an employee; they potentially would not take you seriously due to your stature.
The average height of the CEO’s of fortune 500 companies is 6’ foot; this is approximately 2.5” inches taller than the average male (Choudhary, 2016). Nature has made us naturally gravitate towards people who we see as protectors, and height plays a role in that. There have been studies done that have found that every inch in height counts and on average each inch is worth $789 more per year (Dittman, 2004). I will have to say that I was dumbfounded by all the articles and studies that were done on the correlation between height and leadership abilities.
More surprising to me was I found a website called Short Guy Center (www.shortguycentral.com) that offers tips on how to be a short effective male leader. But, should I be surprised, probably not. We have heard about the phrase “Napoleon Complex” for many years. The definition of Napoleon Complex is “a popular belief that short men tend to compensate for their lack of height through domineering behavior and aggression” (McIlvenna, 2019). So, I can easily see where a short person must be more forceful to deliver a message or even to lead a team.
So, in closing, what I learned through this tirade of short people articles is that when you are short, you need to ensure that you have confidence. Confidence goes a long way in leadership. I also learned that as a leader you need to ensure that you are not performing height discrimination with your followers. We have to treat everyone equally and fairly, regardless of their stature.
Choudhary, K. (2016, December 8). CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are on an average 2 ½ inches taller than an average American. Retrieved November 24, 2019, from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/ceos-fortune-500-companies-average-2-inches-taller-than-choudhary
Dittmann, M. (2004). Standing tall pays off, study finds [Abstract]. American Psychological Association, 35(7), 14-14. Retrieved November 23, 2019, from https://www.apa.org/monitor/julaug04/standing
Hughes, R. L., Ginnett, R. C., & Curphy, G. J. (2012). Leadership: Enhancing the lessons of experience. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Companies.
McIlvenna, U. (Ed.). (2019, November 13). Was Napoleon SHORT? Origins of the ‘Napoleon Complex.’ Retrieved November 24, 2019, from https://www.history.com/news/napoleon-complex-short