Let me tell you something you may not know about me.
I’m a recovering short-man. It’s something I’m hoping to grow out of (see what I did there?). A lot of it stems from emotional trauma during my teen years.
There was a girl I really used to like. I was about 95% sure that she at least found me marginally cute, too. I thought I had a chance until the day she dropped this one on me:
“You know, you’re cute but you’d be FINE if you were taller.”
Yeah, maybe I should have accepted the cute designation and moved on, but the fact that I was too short to be seriously considered as a potential boyfriend scarred me. I was cute, but I came up short… literally.
My wife tells me that she couldn’t even imagine me being tall. I mean, I already am taller than her since she’s 4’11, but I got her point.
Apparently many people who read these blogs but haven’t met me in person have a more vivid imagination. In the last few months, I’ve met several online friends who have been surprised by how tall I am in person. To let you know, I tower at an imposing 5’6″.
Just this past week I met an online friend for the first time and he said he expected me to be much taller, like 6’3″! I found that quite flattering — thanks David! As mentioned earlier, I’ve grown in my understanding of height and influence and I found an interesting dynamic at play in all human relationships. It was actually a compliment.
You see, human behavior research suggests that people who are taller in perception or actuality are thought of as being more leader-like because they are considered dominant, healthy, and intelligent.
One research study put this to the test and consistently found that manipulating an individual’s stature height positively influences leadership perception for both men and women, though the effect is stronger for men. The result is that taller individuals usually have an advantage over short people in terms of status, prestige, and leadership, although research is unclear why.
A blogger describes the phenomenom in this way:
Despite all that, study upon study, observe the height advantage in the choice of candidates for top positions. Malcolm Gladwell, calls it some kind of “unconscious prejudice.” That is prejudice that we have that we aren’t aware of, that affects the kinds of impressions and conclusions that we reach automatically, without thinking.
May be! We tend to rate taller things better. Taller people on the whole are seen as more attractive and more persuasive; tall buildings and high mountains are somehow better than the lower ones nearby. Even language reinforces this prejudice. We talk about the upper class, people in high office, moving up the career ladder, and so on.
In my mind, there’s really only one real reason.
They’re using the Force to make others believe they’re the best leaders.
It would be interesting to measure the height of leaders in your church organization and see how they measure up. Are they Sith or Jedi? I’m joking; tall people aren’t evil.
With this in mind, a couple of stories begin to make more sense. The Bible describes King Saul as being “taller than any of the people,” as if this made him a better leader in the eyes of the people. Apparently, Samuel thought the same thing. For Israel’s Second king, God felt it necessary to give a more accurate rubric for choosing leaders:
When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed is before him.” But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:6-7
Attractiveness and height are not prerequisites for effective leadership. Some scholars may say this text primarily designates God’s assessment for spiritual leadership and not overall leadership. You’re probably right.
After all, Napoleon (my height twin) almost took over Europe and he could have cared less about God.
The Bible doesn’t give us sandal size or growth charts, but a prophecy about the Messiah in Isaiah predicted that neither attractiveness nor physical advantage would describe Him.
“He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” Isaiah 53:2
I wonder how tall Jesus was? I predict he’s 5’6″, but that’s totally unbiblical and unfounded. I can write what I want; it’s my blog.
So if there is an opening in your organization and you’re looking for someone to fill the leadership role, understand that your psychological preference is going to be to place a taller or more attractive person to fill the role. Awareness is the first step to change anything. Second, follow God’s advice to Samuel and look at internal character qualities before making that next hire.
So short people, let’s hold our heads high (or as high as we can)! Tall people have lots of problems that we don’t face. The solution isn’t to make fun of them. Let’s each learn to be comfortable in the skin that we’re in.
Grow to be the best leader you can be!
The height leadership advantage in men and women: Testing evolutionary psychology predictions about the perceptions of tall leaders. Nancy Blaker, et al. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations. 16(1) 17–27. The Author(s) 2013
Also, the Interweb