Monthly Archives: September 2010

Tall & Stupid – Meet the CEO

Robert WadlowThe average height of an Australian Male in 1995 was measured at
174.8cm (~ 5ft 9in) by the ABS. I am 174cm (5ft 8in & ½) tall. So imagine my irritation when I met with the CEO of a major (AUD$1B in revenue) Australian organisation who was around 188cm (6ft 2”). He followed me around the board room as we chatted and not only stood to close to me, but was even leaning over a bit.

I realised afterwards that he was used to using his height to his advantage, which I thought was a bit stupid, so I decided to do a bit of research to make myself feel better. And voila.

Tall people are Authority figures
Pretty much everyone realises that size and status are related, its kind of hard wired from children looking up to adults There has been numerous studies around the phenomena and all its variations. Interestingly, the reverse is also true, we perceive that the more authority a person has, the taller he is. Con men know that titles, height, clothes & trapping convince you that they are authorities as they take your money. Robert B. Cialdini, PH.D. The American Psychologist laid this out plainly in his seminal work from 1984 : Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion.

Authority Figures get Promoted
Professor Tim Judge of the University of Florida discovered in 1993 what had been suspected for a long time. Being tall prompts employers and customers to ascribe more status and authority to a tall person. It also boosts self-confidence, actually making them more successful. When it comes to review time the subjective and objective results of their performance gets them the promotion.

Malcolm Gladwell is his book Outliers discovered that men over 6ft made up only 14.5% of the US population, but the made up 58% of Fortune 500 CEOs. This trend isn’t just overseas either, Andrew Leigh of Australian National University found that in Australia, taller people get paid more!

Stupid People are Overconfident
Its called the Dunning-Kruger Effect named for Justin Kruger and David Dunning of Cornell University who published their study of the cognitive bias in a 1999 scientific paper. According to the scientists, “Overestimation occurs, in part, because people who are unskilled in these domains suffer a dual burden: Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it.”

Overconfident People get over Promoted
Overconfidence is an interesting trait – there are many papers on the strategic and mathematical value of overconfidence in negotiations and approaches to problems as well as its role in the downfall of individuals and organisations. Cameron Anderson and Sebastien Brion at the University of California Berkeley had a look at this and concluded that “overconfident individuals will be perceived as more competent by others, and should attain higher levels of status, compared to individuals with more accurate self-perceptions of competence”. That’s because overconfident people send out more “competence cues”. For example they talk louder, have more confidence in their opinions and use more emphatic gestures. This is all wrongly interpreted as signs of actual ability.

The Conclusion
So now I have a new hypothesis which I am testing regularly. If I meet a CEO and he’s tall and overconfident, chances are he’s completely stupid.

The Language of Business

I was in the Army when I first heard the expression “The best way of learning something is to teach it”. Another expression I like is that “you don’t truly understand something until you have to explain it”. This is especially true when you have to explain it to a child.  So last week I had this conversation:

Me “Hi Honey”
Nine year old Daughter “Dad, you know when you go to work”
Me “Yeah”
Daughter “What language do you speak?”
Me “Ummmm, What do you mean?”
Daughter “Well I heard on the TV someone saying ‘the language of business’ and I was wondering whether it was French or something because we do that at school?”
Me “Ummmm”.

I decided to think about this before I came up with an answer. Drawing on my experience in Finance, Technology, Marketing and Entrepreneurship – I decided that business consists of two languages. Emotion & Mathematics

Firstly Emotion.
Emotion drives every transaction. I have a tall Canadian friend who says it always come downs to fear, greed, sex or real estate. But basically nothing happens unless you want it to happen due to aspirations or wants. Consider your last car, the model, style and configuration – its what it says about you. Consider government policies such as the BER, its about calming fears about the GFC. Consider the sandwich you bought at lunch time, its about making you feel better. Even when we think we are using our intelligence, I would assert its only ever to rationalise an emotional decision we have already made – Consider almost every new job hire ever made.

And then Mathematics
Mathematics is used for measuring every transaction or proposed transaction. It doesn’t matter whether its break even point, profit, demand elasticity , net present value, the budget or economic reorder points. Underlying every transaction is mathematics to propose what can be done or record what has been done.

I explained this to my daughter, then went through an example talking about selling lollies at school. She got the fact that people love them more than wholemeal salad sandwiches so we would sell more, and she got the mini profit and loss statement too. She didn’t get the mini balance sheet though, but perhaps that’s no surprise on her first go at age 9.

I discovered I really enjoyed working through the selling lollies exercise too and in fact the whole process gave me insight as I had to distil the essence of business for her.   So much so I think I might start a small business with the kids next year as training for them, and for me too :)

4 tips on managing your personal profile at work

Does this ring a bell?

I have a friend who was complaining to me two weeks ago that he couldn’t understand why the press had stopped ringing him for a quote, after he had left his high profile business development role with a multinational business, to work with a small start-up organisation.

I had drinks earlier this week with a career diplomat who was looking at the end of his career and realised that when he stops being a diplomat (imminent), it will be difficult to determine what his value is to anyone.

I had coffee this morning with a policeman, that was a bit grumpy because he had been removed from an extra duty that he liked, not because he wasn’t doing a good job, but because he wasn’t communicating the fact he was doing a good job.

There is an old nautical expression, probably the only one I know, which is “one hand for you, one hand for the ship”. I reckon this translates to don’t just be good at your job, manage your profile as well. All too often I meet people who get confused into thinking that the value and credibility that their role confers on them is theirs to keep. The surprise when they find out their mistake is almost tangible.

Remember nothing is forever, no job is secure and no-one is indispensable. Every employment will end either via retirement, retrenchment, resignation or termination. Corporate memories are short, and your cachet for being the ex-whatever has a half life of about six months.

So here’s some advice:

  1. Choose when its you, and when its the job.
    Make sure that when you do a favour for someone – its you personally who is doing it. Eg I take people to lunch, not Flinders Pacific or the Churchill Club or Think London. The favour and the obligation is then connected with me, not my businesses. However if I want to do something unpleasant (eg terminating a supplier contract) you should communicate that its simply the role if you have to play, and they shouldn’t shoot the messenger. You may well meet these people again when your circumstances have changed, and you will want their help, not scorn.
  2. Self promotion is a good thing.
    Don’t just do a good job, make sure that others are aware that you are doing a good job. The quiet achiever being eventually recognised is pretty much a myth, in real-life they get shafted by the person who takes credit for the work and promotes his talents to anyone within earshot. Of course you must be culturally sensitive, because if you are constantly harping on about how good you are in Australia, no one will take you seriously. Simply asserting your name goes on the bottom of your work is a subtle start.
  3. Go further than your job.
    When you are riding the crest of a wave, expand yourself beyond your organisation. Being president of an industry association, on the board of a charity or simply even the guy who puts together a golf day means that you can leverage your current role, to give you currency that survives your role.
  4. Be careful constructing your personal brand.
    You can be the partner at XYZ company who is an industry visionary,or an industry visionary who happens to be a partner at XYZ company. This is most obvious with TV personalities and senior journalists. I don’t know which channel that Burt Newton is with or which paper Michelle Grattan is at, however I do know their name and that they’re good at what they do. Which brand is bigger, Apple or Steve jobs?

The problem with the nautical metaphor “one hand for you, one hand for the ship” is that its much quicker to learn on a yacht than in your career. A mistake on the boat and your overboard,wet, surprised then cross almost instantly.