Looking Healthy Is Important If You Want To Be A CEO

Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook. David Ramos/Getty Images

People look for those with a healthy complexion when choosing a CEO, according to a study.

And they don’t favour the most intelligent-looking except for positions which require negotiation between groups or exploration of new markets.

These results of the study are published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

Brian Spisak from the VU University Amsterdam and colleagues studied preferences for traits of leaders such as health, intelligence and attractiveness.

The researchers focused on facial traits because these provide a wealth of information about individuals.

In women as well as men, caring and cooperative personalities are statistically more likely to have a more “feminine” face, due to higher estrogen levels, while aggressive risk-takers tend to have higher testosterone levels and a more “masculine” face.

The researchers asked 148 women and men to imagine that they were selecting a new CEO for a company and to repeatedly pick between two photos of male faces.

For each choice, the participants were given a job description which specified the CEO’s main challenge.

This was either to drive aggressive competition, renegotiate a key partnership with another company, lead the company’s shift into a new market, or oversee the stable, sustained exploitation of non-renewable energy.

In each choice, both photos were of the same man, whose face had been digitally transformed. His face had been made to look more or less intelligent while his complexion was changed to look more or less healthy.

A stronger general preference for health than intelligence was found.

More healthy-looking faces were chosen over less healthy-looking faces in 69% of trials.

More intelligent-looking faces were only preferred over less intelligent-looking faces for the two challenges requiring the most diplomacy and inventiveness: renegotiating a partnership and exploring a new market.

“Here we show that it always pays for aspiring leaders to look healthy, which explains why politicians and executives often put great effort, time, and money in their appearance,” says Spisak, lead author of the paper and Assistant Professor at the Department of Management and Organization of VU University Amsterdam.

“If you want to be chosen for a leadership position, looking intelligent is an optional extra under context-specific situations whereas the appearance of health appears to be important in a more context-general way across a variety of situations.”

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