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Who’s More Successful? Simply See Photos…

… of their faces it seems. And that’s all. College students were shown head shots of CEOs at the bottom and top of the Fortune 1000 list. Even without knowing the CEOs’ names, companies or any other background they “naively” guessed which people led the most profitable companies. For example, Warren Buffett and the relatively less successful Bill Ford.

This is especially surprisingly because (you guessed it) all of the CEOs looked pretty much the same. White. Male. Late middled-aged.

That’s what social psychologists Nalini Ambady, Nicholas Rule and their team at Tufts discovered. I wonder how it feels to be a non-Caucasian female, leading this study?

Chicken or egg puzzle here of what came first – a successful-looking CEO or a successful career? And what can we learn to look like powerful leaders, regarding of our work or life? No clear answers there it appears yet here’s some more tidbits from the study.

• Based only on the photos, one half of the students were asked how good they thought each person was at leading a company. They accurately guessed which CEOs where in the top 25 companies and which were leading the bottom 25. The other half of the students were asked to rate the CEOs for five personality traits:

1. Competence
2. Dominance
3. Facial maturity (had an adult-looking face or a baby-face)

5. Likeability
6. Trustworthiness

• The CEOs rated most highly for the “power” traits are running the most profitable companies.

• The “ignorant” students who knew nothing about the CEOs nor their companies, “are more accurate in their assessments than well-informed professionals” who are familiar with the leaders and their companies.

• Unfortunately for some, a CEO’s “warmth” (likeability and trustworthiness) had no connection to his company’s profits.

• Also, unfortunately, researchers didn’t ask participants why they thought one CEO looked more competent or trustworthy than another. They were just measuring gut instinctual judgments.

• One comforting conclusion for us in situations where we are ignorant? We are good guessers at who has the most power in an organization or situation – just by viewing photos of the faces of the people involved or (from another Ambady study) fleeting video images of them. However, we’re often less accurate at guessing in person.

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