Broad-Shouldered Leadership - aka - A Narrative for Neanderthals

Posted on Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Since President Trump's Congressional Address last week, I heard Vice President Mike Pence in several interviews put 'great leader' and 'broad shoulders' in the same sentence.  He received a lot of attention around this 'broad-shouldered leadership' narrative during the presidential campaign last fall.  People noticed, and wondered if it was subtle or implicit messaging to stimulate unconscious gender bias toward Mr. Trump's female opponent, while highlighting the differences between the two - at least where body type is concerned.

The race is over, the Trump campaign won.  So why maintain the narrative?  To deflect our attention away from the long list of controversies, scandal and suspicion attached to the new administration? By appealing to the unconscious bias we have that tall, broad-shouldered, masculine men exist to save the day?  That they can right all wrongs and we should trust them implicitly?  Obviously, Mr. Pence never saw the movie 'Frozen' (spoiler alert) in which the lady in distress was not saved by the handsome prince (finally), but by the heroism and love of her sister - yep, a woman.  Even Disney sees the value in changing the outdated narrative around leadership and trust.

In his book 'Blink', Malcolm Gladwell draws attention to our blind love for size, and attachment to masculinity, as though both are equated with capability, by revealing a truly striking relationship between the number of tall men in CEO roles on the Fortune 500 list.  He also revealed a study that highlights how much more an individual makes for each extra inch of height over the average 5' 9" in American men.  Each inch literally amounts to hundreds of thousands of extra dollars enjoyed by people who are tall. 

The Vice President, whether consciously or unconsciously, taps into our primitive instincts by continually re-writing a narrative for neanderthals.  Buying into this narrative will only continue to leave women in the dust regarding leadership roles, as well as leave extremely talented men who are less-than-tall from enjoying leadership positions that they deserve. 

There are two key things to take from all of this:

1.)        Implicit biases are alive and well and continue to be used either for or against us every day - so take it as an added incentive to work on your posture and presence.  It could make or break your opportunities.

2.)        Ask yourself what leadership qualities you really admire and remember them when making decisions about others.  Take notice of your own biases regarding size, physical strength and height, and make a conscious effort to keep them in check.

Unless we can have an honest conversation about leadership qualities, we will continue to constrict the development of organizations by keeping women and not-so-tall men from contributing to their full potential.  Evolution is a good thing.  Let's all do it together, shall we?