Having an attractive partner is good for male but not for female CEOs

By Harry Garretsen and Janka Stoker *

(exechange) — January 1, 2020 — When assessing the competency of business and political leaders, observers rely on not only direct but also indirect signals.

Next to actual performance, research shows that we also attach value to indirect cues, such as the physical appearance of leaders.

Leaders who are deemed to be more attractive are looked upon as being more competent. In particular, the facial attractiveness of leaders clearly correlates with perceived competence.

Stronger still, a new and rather interesting study (1) shows that the looks of a leader’s partner matter too. Having an attractive partner makes a CEO appear more leader-like to observers.

But there is an important snag. An attractive female partner enhances the perceived leadership qualities of a male CEO, but the reverse is not true.

Female CEOs are actually penalized for being with an attractive male partner.

For female CEOs, an attractive partner is a signal that actually undermines her alleged leadership qualities because the female CEO with an attractive male spouse is alas relegated to the traditional role of follower instead of leader.

(1) Kocoglu, I. and M.A. Mithani (2019), “Does an attractive partner make you a better leader? Only if you are male”, The Leadership Quarterly, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.leaqua.2019.101339

* The writers are professors at the University of Groningen and directors of “In the LEAD.”

Editor’s note: This is a guest post.