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Fat spat: why fitness matters for leaders

Date

Max Nisen

Do you measure up to the perceptions others have of you as a leader?

Do you measure up to the perceptions others have of you as a leader?

Many top CEOs are known for keeping to rigorous fitness regimens, despite the demands of their job. Some even go so far as to compete in ironman triathlons in their spare time. That might not be required of everyone, but increasingly, people expect their leaders to be fit.

According to a recent study from the US-based Center for Creative Leadership written up in The Wall Street Journal, many people perceive that overweight executives are less effective at interpersonal relationships in the office, have poorer job performance, and less leadership ability.

What this study really signals is a shift in culture that people hoping to rise through the ranks need to be aware of 

The Journal piece cites experts that claim "staying trim is now virtually required for anyone on track for the corner office". People have negative stereotypes about the overweight, they say, and think that a lack of health or stamina will negatively impact performance.

Fitness doesn't directly impact managerial ability, and though top jobs can be demanding, a slightly to moderately overweight person's physical state isn't likely to hurt job performance.

What this study really signals is a shift in culture that people hoping to rise through the ranks need to be aware of.

Now, the ability to stay fit despite long hours and high stress is seen as a signaling mechanism, showing that a leader has the discipline or time management skills to exercise in the tiny amount of free time they have.

Like waking up and getting into the office incredibly early, it's the sort of external and very visible behavior that factors into our impressions and opinions of leaders, often more than we like to think.

As much as we'd like everything to be about the quality of the work itself, external factors and appearance really do matter.

BUSINESS INSIDER

48 comments so far

  • Wait until some uni graduate decides to turn this general gender-neutral problem into a "woman struggle with image at work" problem.

    Commenter
    ij
    Date and time
    February 06, 2013, 10:33AM
    • There are many more male leaders in organisations so if anything this is likely to be a bias felt more by men.

      Commenter
      KM
      Date and time
      February 06, 2013, 11:39AM
    • Australian men are fatter than Australian women.

      Commenter
      Boilinghotfrog
      Date and time
      February 06, 2013, 11:46PM
  • Yes, I know a number of people who spend many hours in the gym at the expense of family time and as a result don't have much of a relationship with their kids and the kids themselves are usually farmed out to private schools to get the social teaching that their parents don't have time to give. Ironic given there is so much talk about work/life balance these days. Fair enough, it is their choice but it does explain why fathers the second time around are better dads as they don't worry about the career as much.

    Commenter
    Lawrie
    Date and time
    February 06, 2013, 10:51AM
    • We do talk about work/life balance , but before one can realise it , you have to know what it is . Second time around you can care a bit less about money because your first wife has it all anyway and you may have come to know how little of it you actually need. Steve Jobs had lots of money but lost his health. Be healthy , enjoy what you do , try to get married only once.

      Commenter
      Stephen
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      February 06, 2013, 11:44AM
    • I keep on hearing about this as if balancing work and family life is a new issue that hasn't faced people forever. It's not even a new issue for women - it's not like women have never had to work and raise children until the 21st century.

      My boss is a successful and wealthy businessman who started out with nothing, but who has 3 children who he self admits he barely knew until they were teenagers because he constantly worked late hours running his business. His wife was the homemaker, but she also worked much of the time. Yet all 3 of his children have turned out to wonderful, mature human beings who love and respect him for the privileged life his hard work has allowed them to have.

      It's more important to spend quality time with your children and instil them good values than make sure you spend every evening with them.

      Commenter
      Joseph
      Date and time
      February 06, 2013, 11:49AM
  • I am trying to imagine how this article would go if it appeared on Daily Life.

    "Studies show that people expect leaders to be fit, but why change yourself to get the promotion you want, when you can just scream about how terribly unfair the world is?!"

    Commenter
    Christian
    Date and time
    February 06, 2013, 11:11AM
    • You forgot the bit about women having a naturally higher body fat percentage and therefore being discriminated against once again.

      Commenter
      Hurrow
      Date and time
      February 06, 2013, 11:37AM
    • I doubt they'd mention that, given that men in our society on average are still significantly fatter than women.

      Commenter
      Christian
      Date and time
      February 06, 2013, 11:57AM
    • Oh god, funny as hell!

      Commenter
      Blake
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      February 06, 2013, 12:24PM

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