Virginia Bianco-Mathis
University professor, author

Virginia Bianco-Mathis

Business department chair of management programs at Marymount University and author of two books on executive coaching.

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The long view

Q: In South Korea, parents are so certain that height is crucial to success that they are taking their children to growth clinics for hormone shots, acupuncture and other treatments. Do certain physical attributes give people an advantage as they strive for success in the workplace? Are short people at a disadvantage in business or politics or other endeavors?

Are short people and others who possess less than perfect physical attributes at a disadvantage in terms of success? The answer is "yes" in the short-run and "no" in the long run.

The psychology books are full of experiments proving that people who are tall, slim, well-dressed, pretty or handsome are the first to be served in a store, noticed as they walk into a room, chosen on the playground for kick ball, and pegged as being smart.

Indeed, my mom told me, "Marry a tall man since everyone will look up to see him as he walks into a room." In fact, it has also been shown that the taller candidate in a political race is the most likely to win. Since studies have further demonstrated that we decide whether to like or dislike a person within the first 60 seconds of meeting him or her, it seems that those who are physically blessed have the upper hand. So, should the rest of us pack up our bags and retreat to a cave? Not at all.

While the tall, beautiful people have an initial advantage that allows them the first shot, success does not happen in the first shot. The cute boy in the second row loses his charm when he continues to fail every spelling test. The public loses interest when the hunky jock opens his mouth and talks in mono-syllables. The lovely blond banker loses accounts when she insults clients. The tall businessman can't hold down a job because of his lying and cheating.

Thus, physical features may catch the eye, but it takes competence, dedication, character, hard work and top-notch skills to travel the road of success. I made the fatal mistake of hiring a subcontractor who was quite pretty and had a knack for getting us in front of new clients. Unfortunately, when the work got underway, the clients asked to work with someone else in our firm because "Sally's really nice but there really isn't anything under the hood. She talks a good game but doesn't really know how to handle our project."

So don't pack your bags. Decide what it is you are going after. Get honest feedback on your strengths and weaknesses, both internal and external qualities. Showcase your whole package and work around the height or the big ears. Play to your strengths. Smile when you see Sally get the initial invitation or interview. Then walk in and grab the brass ring.

And by the way, I did marry a tall man. Luckily, there were more important things under the hood.

By Virginia Bianco-Mathis  |  January 4, 2010; 12:11 AM ET  | Category:  physical appearance Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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