How to succeed in business? Get thee to a gym! A new study finds people tend to think overweight executives are worse at their jobs than slimmer counterparts.
The research, from the Center for Creative Leadership, shows that business executives with higher body mass indexes and excess weight were perceived to be less effective at both job performance and interpersonal skills. Santa Clara University business professor Barry Posner told the Wall Street Journal that overweight execs are judged less capable because of assumptions about their health and stamina.
He says he can’t name a single overweight Fortune 500 CEO. “We have stereotypes about fat,” he adds, “so when we see a senior executive who’s overweight, our initial reaction isn’t positive.”
This isn’t the first time research has shown that appearance affects our perceptions of competence, of course. Looks play a subconscious role in how well we view everyone from presidential candidates to potential employees.
With its focus on CEOs and executives, however, this study brings up issues beyond the general way people perceive overweight folks. ”What this study really signals is a shift in culture that people hoping to rise through the ranks need to be aware of,” writes Max Nisen at Business Insider.
“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.”
Ana Dutra, CEO of Korn/Ferry Leadership and Talent Consulting, said “The fitness imperative for executives is relatively new.
Time was, a company chief spent every waking minute at work, sacrificing exercise, vacation and kids’ soccer games in the service of the firm. Employees were expected to admire and emulate this devotion. Now, executives are expected to take time off to “revitalize themselves,” Ms. Dutra says.
She pegs the shift to the sudden deaths of high-profile CEOs, including McDonald’s Corp. chief Jim Cantalupo, who died of a heart attack in 2004, 16 months after taking the post. His successor, Charlie Bell, died less than a year later of cancer at the age of 44. In 1997, Coca-Cola Co. Chairman Roberto Goizueta, a smoker, died weeks after being diagnosed with lung cancer.
Overall, executives in the CCL study drank and smoked less than the average American and were more likely to exercise regularly. About half had a BMI of 25 or above, considered overweight or obese, compared to more than 60% of the general population.