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Earlobes askew and crooked nose. Aha, it’s a transformational leader!

Monday, January 30, 2012
posted by Rita Handrich

Most people would agree that Jeff Bezos of Amazon is a transformational leader. But many of us would likely look askance at using earlobes that are unevenly aligned as a measure of leadership potential.

But according to some new research, we might want to think again! As it happens, asymmetry occurs in-utero as a result of stress. Scientists say higher symmetry is a sign of genetic fitness. When they see asymmetry between the right and left sides of the body, scientists say those fetuses were less able to develop symmetrically in the presence of those in-utero stressors. Poor babies!

Leadership researchers talk about transactional versus transformational leaders. Many of them prefer the transformational style of leadership but we’ve seen terrific examples of both among trial lawyers.

A transactional leader is very precise and linear. Communication styles are likely factual, detail oriented, chronological and thorough. They invite you to think and consider the evidence without telling you what you should conclude, and their style of persuasion is very subtle. You are drawn to the transactional leader because they are clear, straightforward, and trustworthy. One of our very successful long-term clients has this style and jurors love it.

A transformational leader is charismatic. Communication styles are more emotive even though they may also be factual and thorough. You are drawn to the transformational leader because of their intensity, passion, and commitment to their cause. The transformational leader is able to inspire followers to put aside self-interest for the good of the group. Another of our very successful long-term clients has this style and jurors love it.

In this study, researchers looked at stereotypes of symmetrical people and asymmetrical people. Symmetrical people are seen as better looking, healthier, more intelligent and more dominant. They are the classic alphas. The asymmetrical personhas to develop more positive social skills to compensate for these perceived shortcomings.”

Then, they measured leadership style via self-report questionnaires and actual small team leadership observation over the course of 22 weeks when groups were required to complete a computer simulation task. They also measured participant earlobes, wrist widths, and finger lengths and assigned scores for overall symmetry to each participant.

What they found is interesting.

Highly asymmetrical people saw themselves as having higher [self-reported] leadership abilities. They saw themselves as more able to intuit others’ feelings and needs and as more able to inspire others.

And this was confirmed as a reality via group performance. The more asymmetrical the leader, the better the team performed (about 20% better on average).

The researchers think that if you’re born with asymmetries you likely focus on developing more “people skills” to overcome perceptions that you are unattractive or not very intelligent. It’s an intriguing idea. Perhaps it is also that people with asymmetry are more interesting looking–and the longer eye gaze from others as they assess the asymmetry leads to development of skills to sustain others’ interest.

Regardless of the reason, it’s a good visual to look for as we select jurors. Crooked ears and signs of social intelligence sparkling in those too far apart eyes? Now there’s a jury leader! [If you’d like to check your own facial symmetry, [for scientific purposes] visit this website.

Senior, C., Martin, R., Thomas, G., Topakas, A., West, M., & M. Yeats, R. (2011). Developmental stability and leadership effectiveness The Leadership Quarterly DOI: 10.1016/j.leaqua.2011.08.005

Senior C, Martin R, West M, & Yeats RM (2011). How earlobes can signify leadership potential. Harvard Business Review, 89 (11) PMID: 22111428


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