6/9/2005 -

In its April 8, 2005, edition, the Orlando Sentinel published an article theorizing that taller and more attractive people receive higher wages than those who are not, and suggesting that this practice could be a source of discrimination, on the one hand, or at least a kind of unethical employment practice, on the other. Upon first reading, this story sounds like old news; upon later reflection, it may miss the mark entirely and do a disservice to many excellent managers, by suggesting that success in business is nothing more than a beauty pageant for tall people. At our firm, we find to the contrary. It’s our view that most thoughtful managers are keenly aware of the pitfalls of indiscriminate employment decisions and do a good job of managing this aspect of their work. Most managers treat people with fairness and equality, respect and dignity. It’s part of what makes them successful.

Of course, sex discrimination is not only a prohibited employment practice, it’s also a problematic one, in that it is both ineffective and counterproductive to good morale and motivation. According to government regulations, selecting a person on the basis of perceived attractiveness (“lookism,” as it is called in some parts of the country) constitutes a form of sex discrimination. At Seay Management Consultants, we recommend that managers treat all employees and applicants equally and without regard to sex, in terms of job opportunities, compensation, benefits and other areas of employment.

Indeed, the “tall and lovely” argument fails at the first level, since all judgments of this sort are, necessarily, based on one’s individual opinion. Margaret Wolfe Hungerford reminds us that, after all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Some observers point out that, in the general culture, a person, otherwise unremarkable in appearance, often becomes more attractive, when clothed with geniality of spirit and grace of manner.

If this principle is true, it might also apply to management – perhaps, one might argue, a manager, otherwise unremarkable in appearance, becomes more attractive and more successful, when he or she operates at the highest levels of performance, competence and ability. One thinks of Socrates, a man not known for the attractiveness of his appearance, but world renown for his wisdom and geniality.

In addition, this idea of beauty and handsomeness plays to a general stereotype that, ultimately, is inaccurate, which is that all good looking girls are cheerleaders and all good looking guys are quarterbacks. It is more likely that the reasons for individual success tend to fall less with the attractive and the tall, and more with those who are (a) manifestly competent, (b) have developed an understated self confidence and (c) who tend to dress professionally and “look the part” of a successful person. Experts in this field tell us that if you project success in your demeanor, and if you “dress for success” in your person, you will tend to experience success in your career. In my thirty-five years of management experience, I can’t think of a single slovenly, successful person. I can, however, think of other personal characteristics that I have observed in successful managers I know, such as:

1. An unswerving commitment to honor, integrity and character in all parts of one’s life, based on the idea that this is not noble but natural. As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus informs us, “A person’s character is his fate.”

2. An unswerving commitment to excellence in service, production and customer or client service. Nothing less. Never.

3. Brightness of mind at a working level, but not brightness standing alone. There is nothing more common than an unsuccessful bright person.

4. A rock solid self confidence combined with the ability to inspire confidence in others.

5. The ability to deal with adversity, to see it as a challenge, something that comes along in the natural flow of things, something to be overcome, something that is temporary. One remembers the ancient Oriental maxim, the only principle that is true at all times and in all places -- “This, too, shall pass.”

Thus, at the end of the day, it may be that the characteristics of success have less to do with external qualities like height and good looks and more to do with a code of internal character traits, the result of which will, ineluctably, lead to success in business and in life. General Douglas MacArthur once remarked that “Security is the ability to produce.” On that basis, I think I can guarantee that, if you can produce in your work, at the highest levels of excellence and integrity, your boss is going to think you look just fine.

“So, when at times the mob is swayed

To carry praise or blame too far,

We may choose something like a star

To stay our minds on and be stayed.”

-- Robert Frost

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