Contributor, Korn Ferry Institute
Locks of Leadership
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How Top Bosses Wear Hair
It’s the first detail people take in, even before the tailored suit and smiling handshake. Whether kept on a close leash or given room to grow, left to blow in the wind or held in place with Göt2B Ultra Glued Invincible Styling Gel, a single luscious—or misplaced—lock reveals personality, values and, for the leader, ability. Except for executive women. Her cut, of course, isn’t about her but society’s impossible expectations.
Either way, never underestimate the power of the do. It’s not the suit that makes the executive. It’s the hair.
Maybe it’s the infusion of young blood, but for the first time, perhaps in history, CEOs are straying from the tried-and-true tapered side part. Dan Price, the CEO who made headlines slashing his salary at Gravity Payments, inspires envy from men and women alike with his shoulder-length chestnut tresses. Marc Benioff, founder of Salesforce, hasn’t just revived the slick-back, he’s joined the growing number of beards in the boardroom. And of course no conversation about hair is complete without mention of billionaire Sir Richard Branson’s bleached-out surfer look.
Rather than opting for a wash-and-wear, more business leaders are experimenting with barber cuts that require TLC. “Eight years ago you did not see CEOs spending time in the morning grooming themselves,” says Genevieve Strazisar, a stylist at Ted Gibson salon in New York City, known to serve society’s elite. But all top execs, regardless of style, she says, stay cleaned up, scheduling trims every two to three weeks, which isn’t cheap. Strazisar estimates a typical men’s cut runs about $200, compared to the national average of about $14. Once they find a stylist, they don’t stray either, especially as they move up the chain. “Your cut communicates consistency and stability,” Strazisar says.
For women, though, hair is yet another obstacle to navigate on the parlous path to the C-suite. Research shows appearance influences how women leaders are perceived, so they often opt for a neutral look. In a study funded by Procter & Gamble in the early 2000s, Yale psychology professor Marianne LaFrance, Ph.D., found: “Within seconds of meeting you, people begin forming a first impression about the type of person you are; and it’s not your face that gives you away, it’s your hairstyle.”
Thus, the bob. More than half of female Fortune 500 CEOs wore a version of it last year. You can curl the ends, like Hewlett Packard’s Meg Whitman, or push the boundaries à la GM’s Mary Barra by adding a few layers, but the look should include a modest side part and stay above the collarbone. Blond continues to dominate: While only 5 percent of white people in the United States are naturally blond, almost 50 percent of female CEOs at S&P 500 companies are, according to research presented at the Academy of Management earlier this year.
Adding to the pressure is social media. Digital impressions are generally cut off at the shoulders. And a hundred flattering pictures can be erased by one bad hair day. “Image is like micromanagement; it’s putting together a puzzle with thousands of pieces,” says Sylvie di Giusto, an executive image consultant. “Unfortunately though, people never notice when you are doing things right. They notice when it goes wrong.”