Posted by: daniellebenedictcnu | August 30, 2016

The “Look” of a Leader

In class, we have been discussing the character traits associated with both sexes and with leaders. This made me wonder about the physical aspects that we link to leadership and how we as women “measure” up. I located an article titled the “3 Physical Qualities People Associate with Great Leaders — For Better or Worse” ( The author, Drake Baer, says that generally speaking people want leaders who are tall, deep-voiced, and healthy or in his words “alpha males.” As a female leader, I have a problem with that. Women can have those same traits or none at all and still manage to lead effectively.

If we are dividing the sexes by labor ability and see men as more physically capable, then these three traits play into the Social Role Theory. For a moment let’s operate under the assumption that people want a leader who can protect and guide them, it does make a bit of sense that you would hope for a classically strong individual. But here is another consideration most of our jobs and activities don’t have imminent, physical threats. Mental power and problem solving are much more pertinent in the modern career field than physical prowess. Moving forward into the next chapter of leadership is about moving past strong-held concepts like the Great Man Theory.

Where do the alpha females fall onto this spectrum? If a woman has these traits is she also more likely to be a successful leader?

I am very tall for a female, the top two percent actually, and I have had a lot of success at acquiring jobs. I have always gotten jobs that I interviewed for in person, that’s a one hundred percent success rate. Maybe it is because I am tall or maybe it is because I am a competent individual. There are a thousand traits that make me me and that determine if I have leadership potential. Let’s not chalk up leadership to three minor physical details.




  1. I think it’s really interesting how people do associate leadership qualities to even just physical appearance. I wonder where these physical attributes came from in regards to its relation to leadership? Has it always been that way? Yes, I don’t see validity in only ascribing physical attributes to be what we deem as a great leader. I agree that mental power and problem solving skills are more relevant nowadays in comparison to physical strength. These are the things that just cannot be gendered because both male and female are 100% capable to be critical thinkers and leaders in that way. But I also think this is about accepting the differences between men and women and seeing those differences as strengths rather than weaknesses.

  2. An unfortunate fact of life is that people make judgments about the competence and character of other based on their appearance. As we are learning in class, we (as a society) also judge the strength of a leader on their gender. There for it makes sense that we subconsciously prefer leaders who fill the physical description of the traits we look for in a leader? I guess to fix this problem we will have to address both. Get to a point where we judge less on appearances and where we do not think of men as more competent leaders than women.

  3. I really like this! One of my favorite things to do is go back and look at leaders throughout history, and most of the “good” leaders usually portrayed as handsome or good looking. In addition, when you look at most of the President of the United States they all tend to have a set look, they are put together, hair slicked back, and really no facial hair. What would happen though if somebody broke that physical appearance? The world would not combust, it would continue to turn but nobody cares about that because change is hard to accept

  4. I also find it really interesting that we associate, whether consciously or subconsciously, different physical characteristics with success in general, let alone successful leadership. And it’s also ludicrous to narrow down the success a person has to just three qualities, let alone qualities that are solely related to physical appearance. I know this article isn’t suggesting that the three keys to successful leadership are height, depth of voice or fitness, but to even suggest that we associate these characteristics to success is a stigma that should be changed.

  5. Unfortunately, these traits are hard for us to ignore as much as we want to. We are pre-dispositioned to see these things and categorized people. But the idea that it can be narrowed down to three traits seemed ridiculous Many leaders have fallen outside of this spectrum, for example many past presidents did not fit this mold. So, maybe this is a result of a changing society. But if so one would assume that it would be more gender inclusive, right? And if these traits are what’s expected, then you can count me out as a leader.

  6. I think as a society we like to act like we do not care about those traits, but in actuality we definitely do. I think characteristics like height, depth of voice, and attractiveness play a major role into who we choose to follow. Maybe it is for the safety factor, maybe we feel more secure with males who are taller with deeper voices even though a female could do an equally good job if not better. But especially attractiveness, I feel this is very important for women. We already have so much going against us in leadership positions and being anesthetically pleasing shows you can at least take care of yourself and come to work presentable. It’s not fair that women have to work harder for it but that’s just the way it seems to be. My mom is constantly saying that she wishes she was 2 inches taller so she could have an even greater sense of authority in her elementary school where she works. Now will that really help her be seen as a more authoritative figure? who really can say. But it is quite apparent that people always notice physical traits, so can’t hurt to always try and look your best as a female leader.

  7. I think it was interesting how you brought up Great Man theory. I think it’s so easy to look at the theory and think that it was primitive- that we have left that way of thinking behind. But talking about what our basic ideas of who a leader should be has me thinking otherwise. We still have these preconceived ideas of how a leader should act or how they should look. These ideas are reminiscent of Great Man Theory.

  8. I think it is interesting how we subconsciously associate leadership ability with physical traits, and it makes perfect sense even though it is not necessary. To be a good leader in a business, one does not need to be talk and muscular but we assume tall and muscular to be more masculine, therefore that person encompasses more of those masculine/leadership traits as they seem to overlap. I really like how you brought in your track record when applying for jobs as well as a female who is tall for a woman!

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: