Margaret Thatcher, 1925-2013 (Courtesy: Associated Press)
Ideas for Leaders #483

A Lower Voice Can Take You Higher Up the Leadership Ladder

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Key Concept

When it comes to success in business, a man’s voice can make a difference — especially if he hopes to become CEO. New research reveals that men with deeper voices manage larger companies, make more money and stay in their positions longer. (Women were not included in this research though Margaret Thatcher’s rise to power was supposedly helped by coaching that lowered the pitch of her voice.)

Idea Summary

Research in academic laboratory settings — that is, within controlled experiments with voluntary participants — has shown that individuals with deeper voices are perceived as having more leadership capabilities. Different research points to specific qualities attributed to individuals with deeper voices, including competence, persuasiveness, confidence and trustworthiness.

What happens, however, in the real world? Are men with deeper voices more likely to be CEOs? A team of researchers from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and the University of California at San Diego’s Rady School of Management decided to investigate the role that voice pitch might play in ‘labour market success.’

The researchers used three metrics for labour market success:

  • The size of the firm managed. Size was defined as the total human, financial and physical assets managed.
  • Compensation. The researchers compared compensation levels between CEOs with higher-pitched voices and those with deeper voices.
  • Retention. To measure whether a deep voice has an impact, success at the relatively quick-impression hiring stage is a first indication. How long a CEO stays in place offers a more honest appraisal of the long-term leadership impact of a CEO’s voice pitch.

Analysing speech samples from 792 CEOs, and cross-referencing the voice samples with the metrics above, the researchers found that a decrease in the voice pitch of 22.1 Hertz corresponded to an increase in the size of the firm to $440 million in assets. The same level of decrease — 22.1 Hertz — resulted in higher compensation of $187,000 per year.

Analysing the tenure of CEOs showed a similar correlation. For each decrease of 22.1 Hertz in voice pitch, a CEO would stay approximately 151 days longer with the firm. 

Business Application

The Duke Fuqua voice pitch research joins a number of other studies revealing the importance of physical characteristics, including height and facial features, that seem to give certain people — especially men — an advantage in reaching the higher levels of executive positions.

While some may see this as an unwarranted bias — is a tall man going to make better strategic decisions than a smaller man? — board members and business owners should not discount the impact that physical characteristics can have on the perception of others. If a deeper voice makes a person more credible, and thus more able to get buy-in for a new strategy, for example, voice pitch may be one albeit minor factor (probably in conjunction with other physical characteristics) that could be considered in the selection process.

Little is known, in fact, how voice pitch might add value. And there are, of course, a vast variety of factors to be considered in the selection of top executives. The look and sound of a candidate cannot be ignored, but elements such as experience, past success in leadership posts, and a game plan for the firm should carry more weight. 

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Authors

Institutions

Source

Idea conceived

  • July 2013

Idea posted

  • February 2015

DOI number

10.13007/483

Subject

Real Time Analytics