Does How You Look Affect How Well You Lead?

Lee Polevoi by Lee Polevoi on October 21, 2011
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When the media spotlight briefly focused on a possible presidential run by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, several pundits branched out from conventional political analysis to focus on his weight.

Bloomberg columnist Michael Kinsley bluntly stated, “Look, I’m sorry, but Gov. Chris Christie cannot be president. He is just too fat.” Frank Bruni, in The New York Times countered, “Downgrade Christie for his truculent style. Reject him for his limited experience. But don’t dwell on his heft, at least not to the extent that many Americans have been whispering — and some are now outright saying — you should. Girth doesn’t equal character.” Not to be outdone, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson chimed in, “Like everyone else, elected officials perform best when they are in optimal health. Christie obviously is not.”

These comments provoked a a considerable outcry in the blogosphere, with many agreeing that the governor’s obesity was a defining characteristic of his personality (in addition to being a serious health issue) and others defending him against “discriminatory” attacks. Many people questioned his leadership ability because he was presumed to be unable to maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle.

CEOs and small-business owners who are overweight often face similar scrutiny. For example, employees may question their ability to lead if they have difficulty controlling their own weight or appear unconcerned about their personal health and appearance. This attitude may be unfortunate, but like it or not most people respond to the physical appearance of others.

Obesity is a critical problem for everyone in the workplace because of its clear connection to higher health-care costs. The National Institutes of Health has determined that being overweight puts individuals at greater risk for Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke, certain types of cancer, sleep apnea, and liver disease.

There are some traits all employees expect of senior management, who are presumed to set an example for the rest of the company. One expectation is to be in good health, so that better decisions are made, which in turn means those decisions are more readily accepted and respected.  A CEO who wants to introduce a new initiative or move the business in a different direction will have his or her plans better received if they are presented well.

Our bodies (and our brains) don’t function as well with the additional stress of added weight. For CEOs, this not only puts their own health at risk but can undermine the message they want to get out. Perception counts for a lot and someone who doesn’t appear to invest much time or effort in his or her own physical well-being may not be taken as seriously as those who do.

What do you think? Does how you look affect how well you lead?

Lee Polevoi

Lee Polevoi is an award-winning business writer specializing in the challenges and opportunities facing small business. He is former Senior Writer at Vistage International, a global membership organization of CEOs.

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