I’m not sure what the appropriate reaction is to this study, so I’ll let you decide.New research led by Elaine Wong at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has found that CEOs with wider faces tend to lead their companies to better financial performance than CEOs whose faces are skinnier. Can this be true? And if so, why?
The researchers say that broader faces, in men, are a result of more testosterone, and note that male hockey players with broader faces have been shown to spend more time in the penalty box for fighting, which is again supposedly linked to testosterone. So, they wondered, would CEOs with higher levels of testosterone-as shown by their facial features-be more aggressive, and would their companies benefit? What they found:
- The companies of broad-faced CEOs perform better than those of their peers with skinnier faces. Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines is one example of a successful CEO with a wider face; Richard Fuld was maybe a bit horsier, and had the dubious distinction of being the last CEO of Lehman Brothers before it went under. I’ll bet this study is the first time anyone, no matter how subtly, has related the ultimate failure of Lehman to a lack of testosterone on the part of its leadership.
- The relationship between broad faces and company performance is weaker when a CEO faces an ‘argumentative’ group of top managers.
This survey raises so many questions. For starters:
- What about women with broad faces? The researchers didn’t address this, saying the relationship between face shape and behaviour has only been shown to exist in men.
- How much influence do CEOs actually have over the financial performance of their companies? One study suggests that top management teams are responsible for about five per cent of a company’s financial performance. I’m sure some CEOs, such as Apple’s recently-retired Steve Jobs, have at times been responsible for much more than that, but it still seems dicey to connect company performance to one person–never mind the width of his forehead.
- How does this help us, even if these study findings are accurate to some degree? Should recruiters really be on the lookout for CEOs with broader faces? This seems just nutty.
- This research only included 55 CEOs. If there really is a connection here between fat heads and fat profits, a larger sample size would make it more convincing.
- Broad-faced men may be less trustworthy than others, according to previous research. So what does that say about the trustworthiness of successful CEOs?
The study is to be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science.
Even if broad-faced men make better CEOs (by one measure) than their long-faced colleagues, is this useful information? Or is it only going to lead to a brand-new variety of stereotyping?