When Perception is Reality: Do First Impressions Drive Company Performance?

I'm skeptical of this study that claims that ratings of CEO faces are correlated with company performance.

Without knowledge of the pictured individuals' job titles, and by rating the faces on competence, dominance, likeability, facial maturity and trustworthiness, the students were able to distinguish between the successful and the not-so-successful CEOs.

Despite the ambiguity of the images, which were cropped to the face, put into grayscale and standardized in size, ratings of power- and leadership-related traits from CEOs' faces were significantly related to company profits.

There may be some truth to the idea that, based on your first impression of a new CEO you decide if he has what it takes, and decided subconsciously to give more effort. But, there are alternative explanations, including the idea that successful companies seek to hire a person with a certain look to match the others in the CEO's peer group. It's interesting research, but I'm not recommending that you forgo that Harvard MBA for some plastic surgery until I see more evidence.

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  • This is advanced silliness. I blogged about it under the title: “How good looking is your CEO?” (http://blog.threestarleadership.com/2008/01/14/how-good-looking-is-your-ceo.aspx). When you get into the details of this, you find that the researchers controlled for things like “emotional maturity” in the pictures. How do you measure that, let alone control for it?

    The idea that a certain look means corporate success, which is what the claim is, would result in a boom in cosmetic surgery.