Tuesday, July 26, 2011

On the Significance of Facial Hair

In our donor-fueled pursuit of grand ideas and grander gestures, it is often too easy to lose sight of the smaller details which, as so often in life, turn out to be more significant than with hidsight.

Take facial hair for example.

More than an individual choice based on personal hygiene and esthetics standards, facial hair is to the keen eye also a pretty reliable sign of character and competence that must not be ignored if one pursues the highest echelons in this business.

Here is some advice:

The humble mustache is a pretty good tell-tale sign of a certain touch for leadership:

You've got the timeless "Hitler"
Or the more tasteful "groomed sheriff"

Then there is "The Cleric", known to give the wearer an air of trustworthyness and maturity

You've got of course the "Wilford Brimley", an excellent compliment to a comb-over
"Did you say something about my mustache?"
And of course, the "Charmeur" a.k.a. the"Paint-job"
Perhaps you never thought about it, but it is a matter of fact that it is rare to see a dictator this days without a mustache and only a fool will ignore the causality in this correlation. Of course, in certain schools of leadership, partiality to 60’s porno shades trumps a mustache any day:
Shades > Mustache
In our business, of course, mustaches are the thing of donor agencies ("The Bart Reynolds” is the second-favourite mustache style there, after the “Ned Flanders”). However, mustaches are also favored by various accountant species and certain “Asia” old-hands who sport them in combination with side-parted hair and self-darkening eyeglasses, a particularly potent combination that helps with the charm factor in seedy karaoke parlors around Manila.

The three-day stubble of course will forever remain the domain of logisticians and certain HQ people who want to flaunt their field cred and/ or “operational” past. It is often sported in combination with "The Skubble”, a combination of bald patch and stubble (you know the one, right?).

The goatee is a more complicated matter. Volunteers favour them (in combination with various hats specially-made for the tropics), but so do M&E types and consultants. It is fair assumption to make that there is a reverse proportionality between the presence of a goatee and decision-making authority, and Mr. Meles Zenawi of course is the exception that confirms this rule (and there are experts who dispute the goatee characteristics of Zenawi's facial hair and prefer to put this to this style in a separate category, known as "The D'artagnan":

The D'artagnan: Is it a goatee or a mustache? Hard to say.
The side-burn, or the mutton-chop is pretty much a non-French-working-for-French-medical-NGO exclusive, very rarely also seen among veterinarians working for small Italian NGOs. A niche.

Finally, "The Sage" is an interesting one as well – it has only been seen among junior aid enthusiasts around their third year internship and, or course, economists:
"The Sage". Or is it a goatee? Hard to say
Finally, from the fine people at visual.ly, here is a more complete and not industry-specific taxonomy of beards, arranged by trustworthiness:



  1. Isaias Afeworki as a pretty good mustache...so the D'artagnan might be a bit of a snub.

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