It’s not just business degrees and buddy connections that will get you far—a new study claims that the width of a CEO’s face can influence how successfully a company performs.
Lead professorial researcher Elaine M. Wong of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and her team analyzed photos of 55 male CEOs of publicly-traded Fortune 500 organizations, and found that men with a wider face relative to facial height generally achieved higher financial performance than those with narrower faces.
“When we statistically account for factors such as firm size and past financial performance, we find that firms who have CEOs with relatively wider faces achieve about 10 percent higher financial performance, as measured by return on assets,” shares Wong.
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The group studied men for the study—not because they’re sexist—but because the correlation between face shape and behavior has so far been shown to only apply to the male sex. Researchers believe it has to do with testosterone levels, which shape facial structure at puberty. These changes can not only make others perceive a man to be more successful, but possibly even make him feel more powerful and aggressive—two characteristics that often lead to advancement in the business world.
“Men with relatively wider faces may be naturally inclined to pursue their goals aggressively and to feel as though they have control over their outcomes,” says Wong. “Another possibility is that the effects of testosterone are socially influenced. Men with larger facial ratios may ‘learn’ to feel more powerful and adopt leadership roles because of the way they are treated by others.”
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While past studies have shown that people intuitively associate physical characteristics like height with leadership ability, this new study is the first to identify physical characteristics that predict actual leader performance. More details of the study will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, the journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
A gander at today’s leading—and most notorious—CEOs puts the study findings in action. Wide-faced CEOs like Donald Trump, Peter Voser of Shell, and former CEOs Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines and Eric Schmidt of Google have all led their companies to impressive growth and profits. Meanwhile leaders like the final doomed Lehman Brothers CEO Dick Fuld and Dennis Kozlowski of Tyco—whose decision to throw his wife a lavish $2 million dollar toga-themed birthday party nailed the coffin of his demise—both harbor distinctly longer faces.
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(But narrow-faced readers, don’t despair; Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and former Apple CEO Steve Jobs stand as especially noteworthy exceptions to the rule.)
For exceptions like Zuckerberg, perhaps mind is able to overcome matter. The researchers found that a CEO's thinking style can influence whether face shape affects financial success. For those leaders who see the world in black and white terms, the company atmosphere tends to be more deferential to authority and face shape matters more. But for those who are prone to see the world in shades of gray, face shape is less important.
The aggression associated with facial width has also stood out in the world of professional sports. Hockey players with wider faces spend more time in the penalty box as a result of picking physical fights with other players, and studies show that wider-faced football players are perceived as stronger athletes who are given more opportunities on the field to work on their game and enjoy ensuing success.
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Some researchers conjecture that facial width may even be an evolutionary trait, created by Mother Nature as a warning signal of territorial aggression. “Competitors may have used this cue, likely on a subconscious level, to decide whether or not to take an opponent on,” behavioral neuroscientist Cheryl McCormick of Canada’s Brock University has said of wide faces.
Could it be that Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest’ has leaped from jungle to boardroom and beyond?
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