The 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.
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.