What's in a face?

Senior Kat Jeremy has made abundantly clear what he thinks of the phrase "what's in a name" ("the most hackneyed phrase in the trade mark and branding lawyer's stock of handy cliches"). Researches from the University of Toronto and Tufts University go one step further and claim that you don't even need to look at the name - just looking at the faces of the managing partners of the top 100 US law firms will tell you about the firms' success:

First impressions can predict numerous subjective and objective outcomes. Here we show that judgments of the faces of the Managing Partners (MPs) of America's top 100 law firms relate to their firms' success. Participants' ratings of Power (competence, dominance, and facial maturity) from the MPs' faces significantly correlated with the profit margin, profitability index, and profits per equity partner (PPP) that the firms earned. Participants' ratings of Warmth (likeability and trustworthiness) showed no relationship with these variables, however. These effects remained after controlling for important factors, such as facial attractiveness, MP years of experience, photo quality, and firm size, as measured by number of lawyers. Based on previous research and leadership theory, traits related to leadership may therefore become manifest in individuals' faces, influencing the performance of the organizations that they lead.

So, being likable and trustworthy does not improve your bottom line. In other news, bears poop in the woods. The conclusions from such a study are of course always somewhat speculative, as the authors note (references omitted):

Thus, it is possible that more powerful-looking MPs are better leaders and that this success in leadership is reflected by an important organizational outcome measure: accrued profit. This conclusion, however, should be considered with great caution for several reasons. First, we cannot determine whether powerful-looking MPs actually possess personalities akin to what their faces convey (despite some evidence that facial appearance may accurately reflect standard measures of personality; e.g., ...). Second, the effect that leaders actually exert on organizational performance is somewhat controversial (...). However, if we accept the proposition that faces can accurately communicate aspects of personality (...), that the traits contributing to effective leadership relate to Power (e.g., competence and dominance; ...), and that leaders do have an important influence on their organizations' performance (...); then we can tentatively suppose that naive perceivers' judgments (unbiased by personal relationships to the leaders) detect qualities of leadership success in MPs' faces and that these are reliably and significantly related to the performance of their organizations.

What's in a face? What's in a face? Reviewed by Mark Schweizer on Monday, June 06, 2011 Rating: 5


  1. Improving your bottom line? I thought it was faces, not bottoms ...

  2. Lombroso would be happy with this research:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cesare_Lombroso. Not sure if we should be too.


  3. Mmm... (blank look!)

    $19.95 to look at a report on MP photographs. What about a report correlating law firm success with the price charged by the photographer?

    More vaseline on the lens, Mr Demille.


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