Friday, February 1, 2008

How to spot a leader

Even Jotman, steadfast believer in the paramount importance of good leadership, was surprised by the findings of a study reported in last week's Economist.* It suggested that spotting the effective leader does not require an MBA or knowledge of Peter Drucker. Apparently, a quick glance at a person's face tells someone more about a person's potential to exercise good leadership than a more studied approach. Moreover, "(i)t looks as if knowing a chief executive disrupts the ability to judge his performance."

A previous study had shown that students shown a two-second video clip of a professor lecturing could predict the teaching assessments of students who had sat in a class taught by the professor for a whole semester.** The new study reported in the Economist went several steps farther. For the study, researchers showed photos of CEOs to various people -- to subjects who did not recognize them as CEOs -- and asked them to rate the faces according to various leadership qualities. The results were astonishing. Two factors, assessed "leadership potential" and "power" (competence, dominance and facial maturity) were were found to be significantly -- and independently -- related to a company's profits.

Not only may it be relatively easy to identify those with leadership qualities, but that these qualities significantly impact the bottom line. But this study comes seven years too late.
* by Ambady and Rule, to be published in Psychology Science.
** As a university student, one of my techniques for deciding which class to take was to sit in on the first class for various courses, and then eliminate any classes taught by professors who had failed to captivate my interest. Now I see that someone has identified a scientific basis for my approach.

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