Despite the axiom “don’t judge a book by its cover,” making decisions at work often requires quick judgments based on little information. As such, researchers have been interested in how physical and visible characteristics impact our view of someone’s leadership ability. But how accurate are these judgments? Are evaluations of facial appearance related to actual leadership success?
FACIAL APPEARANCE AND LEADERSHIP SUCCESS
Researchers (Dietl, Rule, & Blickle, 2018) helped answer these questions by taking pictures of men and having participants rate the leadership capabilities of each picture based solely on their facial appearance. With these pictures, across two studies, the authors found that ratings of leadership based on facial appearance are related to actual leadership role and career prestige. This means that men with faces that are rated leader-like tend to have greater leadership success.
Further, the authors were interested in why facial appearance is important to leadership success. To answer this question, the men in the pictures rated their own core self-evaluation, which is a perception of worthiness, competence, and capability. Using these self-evaluations, for both studies, the results showed that ratings of leadership capabilities based on facial appearance related to the men’s core self-evaluation. Consequently, core self-evaluation was related to leadership success. These findings are important, as the authors argue that the judgments of facial appearance lead to people being treated differently (as being a leader or not), which ultimately impacts their own self-evaluation of being worthy and overall leadership success.
Lastly, what is most thought-provoking about the authors’ findings is the consistency across both studies. In the first study, the judges of the facial appearance of each picture were working adults. In the second study, the authors used children of about 9 years in age. Given the difference in age and consistency of findings, the authors conclude that perceptions of leadership might precede work socialization. Meaning that we might hold an image of what a leader should look like from a young age, even before having a job.
In general, the results of these studies demonstrate that ratings of leadership based on facial appearance might hold a kernel of truth. Seeing that ratings were associated with core-self evaluation and subsequent leadership success across both adults and children, the authors propose the possibility of an evolutionary understanding of what a leader looks like.
By understanding the impact of facial appearance on ratings of leadership, organizations can design systems to make better decisions. The authors emphasize the importance of avoiding the use of job-irrelevant information to make employment decisions. More specifically, the authors note the role of decision-makers to consider the impact that job-irrelevant factors like facial appearance can have, and to ensure that assessments emphasize the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed for the job.
Dietl, E., Rule, N., & Blickle, G. (2018). Core self-evaluations mediate the association between leaders’ facial appearance and their professional success: Adults’ and children’s perceptions. The Leadership Quarterly, 29(4), 476-488.