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Body Mass - The Key to Success?

By Peter Urs Bender

The world is made up of tall and small people (and all the rest in between). And of men and women. Here, too, some are in between. Without bias, this article is intended for the male of the species.

Did you ever notice that most presidents, bosses, and a lot of high-income earners are tall? Women love to date taller men.

Walk into a restaurant, a bank, or any business, and you will often see the tallest guy is the one who runs the place. If you ever have an opportunity to meet with a club of presidents, you will find yourself surrounded by tall humans.

Why is that?

I want to make it perfectly clear that height has nothing to do with brains. It only has to do with how we perceived others. And perception can become reality.

It started in school. The tallest in the class get picked by the teacher to do little things like cleaning the blackboard, sharpening the pencils, or opening and closing the windows (if schools still have them). In sports, coaches always pick the tallest first, and needless to say, all the girls like to date the tall guys first.

That gives the tall guy a stronger sense of ego and self-worth - so much so that he starts to think he deserves more from life. That attitude he will take with him through the rest of his career. And as we all know, what we expect we often get... (Unfortunately, we do often not get what we deserve)

Why are presidents often so big?

All over the world you will see that presidents are tall, and the top entrepreneurs are small people.

Let me explain why. A president is normally chosen by a board of directors. The board is usually given a list of candidates through a headhunter. All these candidates are perfect matches for the job. So the board says, "Let's see them."

Just assume all the candidates have equal experience to run that company. They are all equally unknown to the board. Let's also assume they all make the same good impression, when they present themselves in the interview. I guarantee the board will choose the biggest of them. Because body mass creates believability and power for the individual. Check it out. You will see that most presidents are very tall.

There are exceptions, of course. You will find small presidents. But they will have worked themselves up from the bottom of the company. Or they were known by the board as being great leaders, or came very highly recommended. (But they will not have been selected by a board through the interview process where body mass counts for a lot.)

Look at an army. Very often you will find that top generals are physically small in size. Reason? They came from the ranks, from within the organization. In armies we don't hire outsiders, (which we would judge by body mass). We hire from within. We look at the past experiences and capabilities of the individuals. Think of General George Patton, General Bernard Montgomery, or even Napoleon Bonaparte. They were all small in physical size. They all came up through the ranks.

Some time ago there was a survey conducted in the United States of the top hundred companies that were still run by their original entrepreneurs. They asked these entrepreneurs questions such as how many times they had failed before they succeeded. (The average was seven times.) The survey also measured physical height, and found most were extremely small.

After these entrepreneurs retired, which most of the time never happened - they just died in office - the board selected as president the biggest person it could find.

Look at your own country or city. Look at your own homegrown entrepreneurs. (An entrepreneur is someone who came from nowhere with nothing and made it big. Not a somebody who grew up with a silver spoon and inherited lots of power.) It doesn't matter what country you look at, you will see most at the top entrepreneurs are small people.

In Canada, think of Moses Znaimer, founder of City TV, or Jimmy Pattison of B.C., an entrepreneur recently referred to by one media commentator as "owning everything west of Alberta." Think of Mel Lastman, mayor of Toronto. He was a very successful entrepreneur before he attained political office.

Of course, not all little people will become great entrepreneurs. But why do a few of these guys succeed beyond all measure?

I think it all starts very early in life. As a matter of fact, kindergarten is often the turning point. The little guys get beaten up by the big guys from Day One. And that is only the beginning! Now they have three options. They can 1) be beaten up, and become the victims for the rest of their lives. 2) Run away, and learn to hide from the problem. Or 3) they start to have big friends and no one dares to beat them up anymore. In other words, they learn to associate themselves, with power.

In school the little guy never gets asked to do any tasks by the teacher, which hurts his ego. In gym, when they line everyone up - from the tallest to the smallest - he doesn't get the most powerful feeling either. In most sports when they start picking teams, they always take the tallest guys first. The exception is hide-and-seek where the best hidey-holes are the smallest ones. Then they need the smallest guys.

When puberty arrives the little guy, like anyone else, wants to date girls. But he finds there are only three in the class smaller than him. What's worse, they are already in love with the big class president. The future is not looking rosy.

But it doesn't stop there. It carries on into university and the business world. He keeps on hanging around with stronger, smarter or just plain more powerful people. The group we associate with influences us all.

Show me your friends and I know who you are. Your friends are exactly the way you are or would like to be. So if you know somebody who says he has stupid friends, just tell him Bender said _

Once the little guy gets into the real world, however, he often finds he's still getting pushed around. So much so that he probably says one day, "To hell with it. I'm going to start my own business."

Suddenly, he feels pretty good. Nobody is telling him what to do any more. As a matter of fact, he falls in love with his work, and continues to work like mad. The return on that work may be less than others earn, but the satisfaction and self-fulfillment he feels more than make up for it.

What often happens is that he becomes addicted to work. No wonder! He gets real satisfaction from it. Therefore he often works until he dies. (I myself will quit three days before my funeral. That will give me time enough to look relaxed, carefree, peaceful and happy in my coffin.)

Inevitably, wherever I go, most people tell me, "Oh, we thought you were much taller." Nobody has ever said, "Oh, I thought you were smaller." How do they get this impression of my size? They look at the head-and-shoulders photo on the back cover of one of my books, and come to an imagined conclusion on my size. But why do they always think I'm taller?

According to Dr. David Lewis, an English researcher and author of The Secret Language of Success, reputation is an important factor on how people judge height. He uses the example of a speaker who was asked to talk to different groups of university students. The students were asked to evaluate the speech, and then estimate the height of the speaker to the nearest inch.

The speaker was always introduced the same way, and gave the same speech every time. But with every group he spoke to, his title changed. First, he was introduced as a university student of psychology, then as a demonstrator in psychology, a lecturer in psychology, a senior lecturer in psychology, and finally as the Guru, a professor of psychology at Cambridge University.

The feedback from the students was always the same with the exception of his height. As his academic standing increased, so did their perception of his height. The professor was seen as being a full five inches taller than the student!

Can a small person appear larger? Yes. There's a simple technique to make yourself appear larger than you are. Part of it involves respect. If you command respect, others will automatically give you more distance.

Lewis wryly cites a comment about Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis. "He was a short man - until he stood on his wallet."

But we all have a personal bubble of space around us. The more important a person becomes the more space we will yield around him. You can't control your physical size. Whether you're tall or small, you are what you are. But if you are able to create more space around yourself, you are perceived as being bigger.

So if you're a small person, don't get too close to others. Keep your distance, and you will be perceived as being bigger. Don't worry about the big guys. They're doing very well for themselves. The idea is to make the tall people feel as if they still retain control. But we know the truth, don't we?

Peter Urs Bender is one of Canada's most dynamic and entertaining business speakers. He lives and works out of Toronto. He is the author of four best-selling business books: Leadership from Within, Secrets of Power Presentations, Secrets of Power Marketing,, Secrets of Face-to-Face Communication, and Gutfeeling.
To read excerpts from his books visit

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