Do leaders need to look healthy rather than smart?

Ed Miliband, the current leader of the Labour party here in Britain has been having a bit of a rough time of it over the past year or so.  There seems to have been a steady stream of photos released of him looking less than prime ministerial.  The latest of which saw him giving some change to a homeless person with all the joy of someone trying to feed a lion.

These various faux pas have caused some in his party to call for his resignation recently.  They haven’t done so due to his policies or his intellect, but on the perception he’s giving the public of his party.  So looks matter, which is something we’ve probably always known to one extent or another.

A recent study from VU University Amsterdam highlights just how much however.  The researchers explored participants preferences for particular visual traits in their leaders.  For instance, would people prefer their leader to look healthy or smart, and indeed what characteristics qualify for each.

Participants in the experiment were asked to select a CEO for a company based upon nothing but the photo of the persons face.  Each participant had to make a choice between one of two faces, with each selection accompanied by a job description and the core challenge the new boss would face when selected.

These challenges typically revolved around particular character traits.  So some may be required to aggressively attack the market, whereas others would be required to strike up collaborations with partners.


Health vs intelligence

Now, the catch was that the photo was actually of the same man, but the researchers had manipulated them in order to make them look either smarter or less healthy.

It emerged that in 69% of the recruitment scenarios, people would go for the healthier looking candidate over his pastier looking rival.  What’s more, this bias was found regardless of what challenge awaited the new boss.

Indeed, the smarter looking candidate was only chosen first when they would be required to be both diplomatic and inventive.

“Here we show that it always pays for aspiring leaders to look healthy, which explains why politicians and executives often put great effort, time, and money in their appearance. If you want to be chosen for a leadership position, looking intelligent is an optional extra under context-specific situations whereas the appearance of health appears to be important in a more context-general way across a variety of situations,” the researchers conclude.

All of which leaves the question of whether choking on a bacon roll is a particularly healthy look?



3 thoughts on “Do leaders need to look healthy rather than smart?

  1. I feel sorry for Miliband. It's like the credibility post you made today. They're judging him not on what he says but on how he looks. It's pathetic.

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