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Have you got the face for success?

Forget about nominative determinism – the influence of someone’s name on their career choice – how someone looks is just as likely to have an impact on their career progression.

Noteworthy findings: Dr Dawn Eubanks
Noteworthy findings: Dr Dawn Eubanks

Research by Dr Dawn Eubanks at Warwick Business School suggests that leaders in certain fields are being selected in part because their face fits the stereotype of their profession.

In a series of experiments designed to find out whether it is possible to identify which industry someone works in from their facial characteristics (excluding hair), participants successfully picked out leaders from business, sport and the military but found politicians harder to categorise.

Dr Eubanks believes this process could also heavily influence leadership selection.She said: “Our findings imply that within business, military and sport, individuals who achieve the highest positions of leadership share common facial features that distinguish them from leaders in other domains. The most plausible explanation, in our view, is that leaders are being selected, at least partly, according to how they look.

“The research suggests the ideal face of a leader extends beyond fitting the correct ‘type’ but needs to fit the industry or profession as well. That is, leaders may benefit not just from having competent or attractive looking faces, but also from having facial features that ‘fit’ a certain stereotype uniquely associated with their particular domain.

“In fact, just having facial features that make one look like a good generic leader might not be sufficient to reach the most prestigious leadership positions in a domain; one may also need to possess facial features that stereotypically ‘fit’ the leaders in that domain.

“These findings are particularly noteworthy for those involved in leadership selection decisions. It is important to not let implicit biases get in the way and ensure that there is a rigorous selection process in place.”

The research study The many (distinctive) faces of leadership: Inferring leadership domain from facial appearance by researchers Christopher Olivola of Carnegie Mellon University, Dr Eubanks of Warwick Business School and Jeffrey Lovelace of Pennsylvania State University was published in The Leadership Quarterly.

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