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Executive Presence: “Gravitas”, Communication…and Appearance?

Executive Presence is considered essential to achieve leadership roles and effectively perform in them.

Sylvia Ann Hewlett

Sylvia Ann Hewlett

Organizational advancement assumes measurable knowledge, skill, competence, coupled with less quantifiable “authenticity,” “cultural fit,” and “executive presence.”

To more clearly define these less tangible prerequisites of executive advancement, Sylvia Ann Hewlett, economist and CEO of Center for Talent Innovation, conducted 18 focus groups and 60 interviews to systematically investigate behavioral and attitudinal aspects of Executive Presence (EP).

Interviewees opined that Executive Presence accounts for more than a quarter of factors that determine a next promotion, and includes three distinct components:Executive Presence

Gravitas” – Authoritative Behavior

    • Confidence, composure,
    • Decisiveness,
    • Integrity,
    • Emotional Intelligence: self-awareness, self-regulation, interpersonal skills,
    • Clear personal “brand” reputation,
    • Vision for leadership

Communication

    • Strong speaking skills:  Voice tone, clear articulation, grammatical speech conveying competence, credibility,
    • Presence”, “bearing”,  “charisma” including assertiveness, humor, humility,
    • Ability to sense audience engagement, emotion, interests

Appearance

    • Attention to grooming, posture,
    • Physical attractiveness, normal weight,
    • Well-maintained, professional attire.

Harrison Monarth

Executive presence can be cultivated with Image Management, argued Harrison Monarth.

He advocated self-marketing tactics including:

– Creating and maintaining a compelling personal “brand” to influence others’ perceptions and willingness to collaborate,

– Managing online reputation, and recovering when communications go awry,

-Effectively persuading those who disagree, and gaining followers,

-Demonstrating “Emotional Intelligence” skills of self-awareness, awareness of others (empathic insight).

He focused less on appearance as a contributor to career advancement than Hewlett and Stanford Law School’s Deborah Rhode, who summarized extensive research on Halo Effect.
Rhode and Hewlett acknowledge the impact of appearance and non-verbal behavior on various life opportunities including career advancement.

Deborah Rhode

Rhode estimated that annual world-wide investment in appearance is close to $200 billion in 2010 USD currency, and she contended that bias based on appearance:

  • Is prevalent,
  • Infringes on individuals’ fundamental rights,
  • Compromises merit principles,
  • Reinforces negative stereotypes,
  • Compounds disadvantages facing members of non-dominant races, classes, and gender.

Executive Presence is widely recognized as a prerequisite for leadership roles, yet its components remained loosely-defined until Hewlett’s systematic investigation, Monarth’s consulting-based approach, and Rhode’s legal analysis.

-*Which elements seem most essential to Executive Presence?

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How Much Does Appearance Matter?

Hillary Clinton

Even before Hillary Clinton‘s historic 2016 campaign for President of the U.S., attorney and image consultant Orene Kearn,questioned the impact of Clinton’s appearance on her perceived competence as US Secretary of State.

Orene Kearn

Perceived attractiveness was correlated with perceived competence and likeability in a meta-analysis by Michigan State University’s Linda A. Jackson, John E. Hunter, and Carole N. Hodge.
They reported that physically attractive people are perceived as more intellectually competent, supporting  status generalization theory and implicit personality theory.

Nancy Etcoff

Women who wore cosmetics were rated more highly on attractiveness, competence, likability and trustworthiness when viewed for as little as 250 milliseconds, found Harvard’s Nancy L. Etcoff, Lauren E. Haley, and David M. House, with Shannon Stock of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and Proctor & Gamble’s Sarah A. Vickery.

Models without makeup, with natural, professional, “glamorous” makeup

However, when participants looked at the faces for a longer period of time, ratings for competence and attractiveness remained the same, but ratings for likability and trustworthiness changed based on specific makeup looks.

Volunteers accurately distinguished between
judgments of facial trustworthiness vs attractiveness and attractiveness was related to positive judgments of competence, but less systematically to perceived social warmth.

The researchers concluded that cosmetics could influence automatic and deliberative judgments because attractiveness “rivets attention, and impels actions that help ensure the survival of our genes.”

Most people recognize the bias in assuming that attractive people are competent and that unattractive people are not, yet impression management remains crucial in the workplace and in the political arena.

-*Where have you seen appearance exert an influence in workplace credibility, decision-making and role advancement?

 

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Plastic Surgery Changes Perceived Personality Traits

Michael J. Reilly

Michael J. Reilly

People often evaluate others using facial profiling making inferences of personality attributes by visual observation, according to Georgetown University Hospital’s Michael J. Reilly, Jaclyn A. Tomsic and Steven P. Davison, collaborating with Stephen J. Fernandez of MedStar Health Research Institute.
This cognitive shortcut can lead to biased impressions and limited opportunities for those unfavorably judged.

Jaclyn A. Tomsic

Jaclyn A. Tomsic

The research team asked observers to rate women’s personality and character traits following plastic surgery procedures between 2009, and 2013 including:

  • Chin implant,
  • Eyebrow-lift,
  • Lower blepharoplasty (lower eye lift),
  • Upper blepharoplasty (upper eye lift),
  • Neck-lift,
  • Rhytidectomy (face-lift).

Judges assigned higher scores for likeability, social skills, attractiveness, and femininity following plastic surgery compared with their pre-surgery ratings.

Michael Reilly-Preoperative-Postoperative photosPreoperative and postoperative photographs of 30 women exhibiting “well-matched neutral facial expressions” were split into 6 groups, each with 5 preoperative and 5 postoperative photographs of different participants.

Steven Davison

Steven Davison

At least 24 raters, unaware that participants had plastic surgery procedures, evaluated each photograph on a 7-point scale for:

  • Aggressiveness,
  • Extroversion,
  • Likeability,
  • Risk-seeking,
  • Social skills,
  • Trustworthiness,
  • Attractiveness.

Reilly’s team noted that these surgical procedures provided cosmetic improvements to two regions crucial to expressing and interpreting emotions: eyes and mouth.

Michael Reilly - Pre-Post 2They concluded that:
“The eyes are highly diagnostic for attractiveness as well as for trustworthiness which may explain why, in our patient population, patients undergoing lower (eyelid surgery) were found to be significantly more attractive and feminine, and had a trend toward improved trustworthiness as well.”

“The corner of the mouth is the diagnostic region for both happy and surprised expressions and plays an important role in the perception of personality traits, such as extroversion.
“A subtle upturn of the mouth and fullness in the cheeks can make a person look more intelligent and socially skilled.
“This appearance may explain why patients undergoing a facelift procedure … are found to be significantly more likeable and socially skilled postoperatively.”

Paul Ekman

Paul Ekman

These results validate empirical findings that people make trait inferences based on facial appearance and structural resemblance to standard emotional expressions, described by University of San Francisco’s Paul Ekman.

Volunteers attributed personality traits to neutral faces when they detected a resemblance to standard emotional expressions, reported Princeton’s Christopher P. Said and Alexander Todorov with Nicu Sebe of University of Trento in their study applying a Bayesian network classifier trained to detect emotional expressions in facial images.

Christopher P. Said

Christopher P. Said

Neutral faces perceived as positive resemble typical facial expressions of happiness, whereas faces seen as negative resemble facial displays of disgust and fear.
Faces viewed as threatening resemble facial expressions of anger.

Trait inferences result from overgeneralization in emotion recognition systems, which typically extract accurate information about a person’s emotional state.

Nicu Sebe

Nicu Sebe

However, faces that bear subtle resemblance to emotional expressions can lead to misattributed personality traits and biased impressions.
These judgments can change for the better when a person’s appearance changes after plastic surgery.

-*To what extent do people’s personality traits seems different following plastic surgery?

-*How often are people treated differently following plastic surgery?

*What are ways to avoid confusing emotional expressions with personality traits?

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Defining Elusive Elements of “Executive Presence”

Fewer researchers have empirically investigated behaviors and characteristics associated with “Executive Presence” than the number of consultants offering recommendations on how to develop this quality and its potential association with career advancement.

Sylvia Ann Hewlett

Sylvia Ann Hewlett

A previous blog post identified three characteristics associated with “executive presence” by Sylvia Ann Hewlett of the Center for Talent Innovation:  Communication, “Gravitas”, and Appearance.

Gavin Dagley

Interviews with 34 professionals, conducted by Perspex Consulting’s Gavin Dagley and Cadeyrn J. Gaskin, formerly of Deakin University, uncovered more elements than Hewitt’s proposed triad of qualities.

Caderyn Gaskin

They found that most executives described as having “presence” were men, reinforcing Hewitt’s assertion that women interested in career advancement should focus on conveying executive presence attributes to observers.

Dagley and Gaskin identified ten characteristics including those mentioned by Hewitt.
The first five characteristics are based on first impressions during initial contact:

  • Status and reputation, similar to “gravitas” discussed by Hewitt,
  • Physical appearance, also mentioned by Hewitt,
  • Confidence,
  • Communication ability, included in Hewitt’s “presence” triad,
  • Interpersonal engagement skills.

The final five attributes derive from evaluations over time during repeated contacts:

  • Interpersonal integrity,
  • Values-in-action,
  • Intellect and expertise,
  • Outcome delivery,
  • Coercive power.

These qualities combine in different ways to form four presence “archetypes”:

  • Positive presence, based on favorable impressions of confidence, communication, appearance, and engagement skills plus favorable evaluations of values, intellect, and expertise,
  • Unexpected presence, linked to unfavorable impressions of confidence plus favorable evaluations of intellect, expertise, and values,
  • Unsustainable presence combines favorable impressions of confidence, status, reputation, communication, and engagement skills plus unfavorable evaluations of values and integrity,
  • “Dark presence” is associated with unfavorable perceptions of engagement skills plus unfavorable evaluations of values, integrity, and coercive use of power.
Philippe De Backer

Philippe De Backer

Another typology of executive presence characteristics was identified by Sharon V. Voros and Bain’s Philippe de Backer.
They prioritized elements in order of importance to purportedly related life outcomes:

  • Focus on long term, strategic drivers,
  • Intellect,
  • Charisma, combining confidence, intensity, commitment, plus demeanor of care, concern and interest in others,
  • Communication skills,
  • Passion,
  • Cultural fit,
  • Poise,
  • Appearance.

Most people assume a relationship between “executive presence” and career “success,” even if the causal connection has not been demonstrated.

Fred Luthans

Fred Luthans

However, University of Nebraska’s Fred Luthans and Stuart Rosenkrantz with Richard M. Hodgetts of Florida International University investigated this relationship by observing nearly 300 managers from various levels at large and small mainstream organizations as they:

  • Communicated,
  • Engaged in “traditional management” activities, including planning, decision making, controlling,
  • Managed human resource issues.
Richard Hodgetts

Richard Hodgetts

Communication and interpersonal skills elements of “presence,” coupled with intentional “networking” and political acumen enabled managers to rapidly advance in their organizations.

Luthans and team identified these managers as “successful” leaders because they advanced more rapidly than “effective” managers, measured by participants’ organizational level compare with their organizational tenure.
In contrast, “effective” managers demonstrated greater managerial skill than “successful” managers, but were not promoted as quickly.

“Effective” managers spent most time managing human resource activities including:

  • Motivating/reinforcing,
  • Managing conflict,
  • Hiring/staffing,
  • Training/developing team members,
  • Communicating by exchanging information,
  • Processing paperwork.
Stuart Rosenkrantz

Stuart Rosenkrantz

Their subordinates reported more positive attitudes and behaviors than subordinates of “successful” managers for:

  • Job satisfaction,
  • Organizational commitment,
  • High team performance quality,
  • High team performance quantity.

Differences in advancement and subordinate reactions to “successful” and “effective” managers appear related to differing managerial behaviors.

Fred Luthans-Effective Managers“Successful” managers spent little time in managerial activities, but invested more effort in networking, socializing, politicking, and interacting with outsiders.
Their networking activities were most strongly related to career advancement but weakly associated with “effectiveness.”

Few managers were both “successful” and “effective”:  Only about 10% of volunteers were among the top third of both successful managers and effective managers.
These findings can lead to discouragement and cynicism, noting that effective managers who support employee performance may not be rewarded with advancement as rapidly as managers who prioritize their career over that of their employees.

These studies suggest that gravitas, communication, and political acumen may explain the gender difference for perceived “executive presence.”
Women who aspire to organizational advancement seem to benefit from cultivating both gravitas and proactive networking to complement communication and interpersonal skills.

-*Which behaviors and characteristics are essential to “Executive Presence”?

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Acknowledge Potential Employer “Concerns” about Gender, Attractiveness to Get Job Offer

Although attractive people enjoy many advantagesattractive women applying for jobs in traditionally male jobs, such as firefighting or engineering, face a double disadvantage: gender and appearance.

Madeline Heilman

Madeline Heilman

The “beauty is beastly effect” is a hiring bias favoring men or less attractive women for “masculine” jobs, first described by Yale University’s Madeline E. Heilman and Lois R. Saruwatari.

Lois Suruwatari

Lois Suruwatari

They found that attractiveness was an advantage for men seeking both managerial and non-managerial role, but attractive women had an advantage only when seeking lower-level, non-managerial roles.

Michelle Hebl

Michelle Hebl

Attractiveness and gender can be considered a “stigma,” just as disability, obesity, and race.
Rice University’s Michelle R. Hebl and Robert E. Kleck of Dartmouth College reported that people in these categories can reduce hiring biases by acknowledging their “stigmatizing” characteristic during the interview.

Robert Kleck

Robert Kleck

In addition, women who proactively addressed the employers potential concern about gender or appearance in a traditionally male role were rated higher in employment suitability, according to University or Colorado’s Stefanie K. Johnson and Traci Sitzmann, with Anh Thuy Nguyen of Illinois Institute of Technology.

Stefanie Johnson

Stefanie Johnson

These candidates were assumed to possess more positive “masculine” traits than other female candidates and evaluators were less likely to penalize these women for displaying “counter-communal” traits, like behaving in contrast to traditional gender role norms.

Traci Sitzmann

Traci Sitzmann

Attractive women’s pre-emptive communication appears to have favorably shaped the rater’s evaluations of employment suitability and buffered the impact “hostile sexism” while increasing “benevolent sexism’s” link to employment suitability ratings.

-*How effective you found “pre-emptive objection-handling” in workplace negotiations?

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Self-Perceived Attractiveness Shapes Views of Social Hierarchies

Nielsen Product SpendingCosmetic surgery is the fastest-growing medical expenditure in the U.S, and Americans spend more on personal grooming than on reading material.

Even during the recession of 2008, Americans spent at least $200 billion on products and services to enhance their appearances, according to Stanford’s Margaret Neale and Peter Belmi, now of University of Virginia.

Margaret Neale

Margaret Neale

Personal appearance and attractiveness have been linked with likeability, perceived competence, income and more, and Neale and Belmi found further connections between people’s self-perceived attractiveness and their attitudes toward social inequality and hierarchies.

Attractiveness Bias2The team asked participants to write about a time when they felt more attractive or less attractive, and then indicate whether they agreed with statements such as, “Some groups of people are simply inferior to other groups,” and “Lower wages for women and ethnic minorities simply reflect lower skill and education level.”

The researchers found that people who think they are attractive also think they have greater social standing, and believe that people are entitled to their social position based on their personal (“dispositional”) qualities.

Occupy 99As a result, people who rate themselves as attractive generally feel that people in lower social strata are there due to their characteristics or behaviors.
These beliefs are associated with less willingness to donate money to a social equality non-profit organization (the Occupy movement).

Peter Belmi

Peter Belmi

By contrast, people who thought they were less attractive also thought they belonged to a lower-status social group, and rejected existing social hierarchies.
They attributed unequal social status to external factors often beyond the full control of those in less prestigious social groups. One example is lack of access to quality education.

Unlike self-perceptions of attractiveness, empathy and integrity were not related to people’s views of their social class and others’ place in society.

-*How have you seen appearance affect acceptance or organizational hierarchy and philanthropic giving?

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Attractive Appearance Helps Men – but not Women – Gain Business Funding

Laura Huang

Laura Huang

Entrepreneurs create jobs and contribute to economic growth with early investment by financial backers who trust the perceived business proposal’s viability and the founders’ previous experience.

Alison Wood Brooks

Alison Wood Brooks

Additional implicit criteria for new venture-funding include gender and physical attractiveness, asserted Harvard’s Alison Wood Brooks, Laura Huang of Wharton, MIT’s Sarah Wood Kearney and Fiona E. Murray.

Sarah Wood Kearney

Sarah Wood Kearney

Brooks and colleagues enlisted 60 experienced investors to:

  • Evaluate videos of 90 randomly-selected presentations by entrepreneurs at three pitch contests in the US,
  • Comment on presenters’ appearance and effectiveness.
Fiona E. Murray

Fiona E. Murray

Male presenters who were rated more attractive were 36% more likely to receive funding than men judged as less attractive, but there was no difference in funding rates for women based on attractiveness ratings.

In a separate study, investors evaluated identical pitches delivered by a man or a woman, and rated male-narrated pitches as more persuasive, logical and fact-based compared with the same presentation delivered by a woman.

These finding suggest that financial backers favor attractive male entrepreneurs, leaving women entrepreneurs – attractive or not – at a disadvantage in creating new businesses, jobs, and economic growth.

This finding underscores financial backers’ preference for male entrepreneurs’ proposals, based on attractive men’s greater perceived persuasiveness than women or less attractive men.

Edward Thorndike

Edward Thorndike

Previous blog posts have noted the “halo effect” of physical attractiveness leading to positive attributions of intelligence, competence, and likeability, originally described by Columbia’s Edward Thorndike.

Woods’ latest findings point to the double advantage enjoyed by attractive men seeking new venture funding.
Aspiring women entrepreneurs, on the other hand, continue to encounter significant unacknowledged disadvantages, not improved by physical attractiveness.

Eleanor Holly Buttner

Eleanor Holly Buttner

However, these findings were not confirmed by University of North Carolina’s E. Holly Buttner and Benson Rosen in their investigation of bank loan officers’ funding decisions.

Loan officers, who typically make funding decisions based on the business plan and interview with the entrepreneur, evaluated a:

  • Business plan or
  • Business plan plus a videotaped interview conducted by a loan officer with a male or female entrepreneur seeking a loan to start a business.
Benson Rosen

Benson Rosen

Bankers rated their likelihood of:

  • Recommending loan approval of the requested amount,
  • Making a counteroffer of a smaller amount, which they specified.

This study found no difference in funding decisions for male entrepreneurs compared with female entrepreneurs presenting the same business case.
In fact, loan officers made larger counteroffers to female entrepreneurs when considering both the business plan and the loan application interview.

Student volunteers’ loan funding decisions were compared with loan professionals, and the younger generation of lay people made larger counteroffers to the male entrepreneur instead of the female when they evaluated both the business plan and the loan interview,
Loan officers, in contrast, made significantly more cautious and conservative funding decisions than student participants.

Buttner and Benson recommended that female entrepreneurs ask to meet with loan officers to present their business proposals because this personal contact resulted in more successful funding of requested loans.

John Becker-Blease

John Becker-Blease

Another source of funding is “angel investors,” and Oregon State University’s John R. Becker-Blease and Jeffrey E. Sohl of University of New Hampshire found no difference in funding for male and female entrepreneurs.
They noted that women seek private investments substantially lower rates than men, but they are equally likely to receive investment.

However, when the “angels” are women, female entrepreneurs are more likely to seek financing and are as likely to receive the requested funding.

Jeffrey Sohl

Jeffrey Sohl

Women entrepreneurs may still face obstacles in starting new ventures,  a barrier shared with less attractive males.

-*How do you mitigate biases based on gender or attractiveness when asking for funding – for a business, initiative, or idea?

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