The head — or the face — of the company: How CEO appearance affects the bottom line

We all use first impressions to guide our perceptions of other people. One would think the professional experience, business acumen and leadership ability of CEOs would prevent us from judging them on looks alone. However, this is not the case.

Among CEOs of for-profit organizations, the more dominant they look, the better. In fact, as previous research has shown, powerful-looking for-profit CEOs are often associated with companies that excel, according to The Washington Post. However, a new study published in the journal Perception proves among nonprofit CEOs, looking dominant may not be a good thing.

For the study, two researchers from the University of Toronto showed participants photos of 100 nonprofit CEOs. They told them to rank the participants on four characteristics: likability, trustworthiness, dominance and maturity. The researchers lumped the likability and trustworthiness ratings together to form a "warmth" score, and they grouped the dominance and maturity ratings to create a "power" score. In addition, they told another set of participants to rank how well the people pictureds would be at leadership based on their looks.

None of the participants were told the people were nonprofit CEOs, and for consistency's sake, all the CEOs pictured were white and male.

After the ranking process, the researchers turned to Forbes, from which they gleaned each company's fundraising efficiency and charitable commitment.

The results? CEOs who had higher warmth scores — or higher likability and trustworthiness — led companies who had higher levels of fundraising efficiency and charitable commitment. CEOs with lower warmth scores led companies with just the opposite — lower fundraising efficiency and charitable commitment. To add fuel to the fire, CEOs who people ranked as better leaders based on their looks led companies that had poor revenue and high expenses.

In other words, dominant-looking nonprofit leaders fare worse than warm-looking nonprofit leaders. If the CEO looks amicable, "that's possibly going to make them seem like a more trustworthy investment," said study co-author Nicholas Rule, PhD, according to the report. "If they're extremely dominant or evil-looking, you're not going to want to donate them money."

But be careful — this isn't always the case. Dr. Rule warns of biases and only choosing a leader based on appearance. "Visual impressions are extremely strong," he said, according to the report. "Even when we know better, that impression continues to reassert itself, [and] we can be really easily swayed by the way people look."

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