News / Toronto

Non-profit leaders more teddy bears than sharks, says U of T study

Psychology study suggests non-profit leaders do better when they have happier, gentler faces, while corporate CEOs look more aggressive and powerful.

Can you tell who is from the business vs. the non-profit world on this photo? It's actually Galen G. Weston, president of Loblaw and Stephen Lewis, chair of the board of directors of the Stephen Lewis Foundation.

Canadian Press file photos / Canadian Press

Can you tell who is from the business vs. the non-profit world on this photo? It's actually Galen G. Weston, president of Loblaw and Stephen Lewis, chair of the board of directors of the Stephen Lewis Foundation.

From dragons in dens to wolves on Wall Street, corporate CEOs are often compared to all sorts of aggressive animals.

But a new study from the University of Toronto suggests when it comes to the non-profit sector, a softer, gentler appearance may actually help you get ahead.

Researchers showed volunteers pictures of both corporate and non-profit CEOS and asked them to rate the individual’s faces on different attributes such as “dominance” and “likeability.”

Corporate CEOs, who had more powerful faces with larger jaws, heavier brows and wider set teeth, tended to be more successful in the business world, said Nicholas Rule, an associate professor of psychology at U of T.

But the opposite was true for successful non-profit CEOs, who were more likely to have rounder, happier faces.

“The basic message is that the perception of traits that seem to benefit the CEOs of for-profit organizations don’t necessarily apply to non-profit organizations,” said Rule.

The study was limited by the lack of diversity of CEOs, in both the corporate and non-profit world, he noted.

“We were forced to just sort of stick with men because we wouldn’t have had enough statistical power to do a meaningful comparison,” he said.

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