Asymmetrical leaders

Groundbreaking research led by Dr Carl Senior has found that asymmetrical people make the most effective leaders.
Carl Senior has a long standing interest in social cognitive neuroscience and has over the past decade dedicated himself to examining a range of behavioural moderators (e.g. perception of faces, beauty, social status etc) His work has been published extensively in various high impact journals. Recently he has started to explore ‘applied’ social cognitive neuroscience, using organisational scenarios as a means to examine the cognitive mechanisms of group behaviour in an applied context.

Alongside his commitments to his work at Aston University, Carl is a member of a number of specialist societies, the Cognitive Neuroscience Society and has several significant roles in the British Psychological Society. His latest research explores the connection between leadership and symmetrical body features.

Evolutionary biologists have learned that people with greater “genetic fitness,” as manifested by a high degree of left-right body symmetry, are not just considered better looking but also tend to be perceived as healthier, more intelligent, and even more dominant than their more asymmetrical counterparts. They’re the classic “alphas” who rise to the top of rigidly hierarchical organizations such as the military.

To examine whether or not such a biological marker could predict leadership within organisations Dr Senior led a research team consisting of colleagues in the Aston Business School, Lancaster University and the University of Birmingham and carried out two studies. In the first, volunteers completed a psychometric questionnaire to measure their leadership qualities. Various body measurements were also taken in order to assess their physical symmetry. This included measuring finger length, wrist width and ear length. In the second students in the Aston Business School were set the task of marketing and selling a car. Each group of students had to self-elect a leader and each leader who were subsequently measured, as in the first study, for body asymmetries. A range of other variables relating to their effectiveness as leaders, such as team wellbeing, role satisfaction and perhaps most importantly, the overall quality of their work output was recorded.

Remarkably, the first study found a correlation between asymmetrical bodies and transformational leadership. This is the more effective, caring style of leadership.
In addition to this, the second study found a strong correlation was found between the asymmetry of the leaders and the measurements of effective leadership. That is those groups led by asymmetrical leaders enjoyed a better working environment, experienced more enjoyment with their tasks and perhaps most importantly produced work that was up to 20% of higher quality than the work produced by the other groups.

This shows that people with subtle asymmetries in their bodies—for example, imbalances in ear or finger length—are often better “transformational” leaders, able to inspire followers to put self-interest aside for the good of the group.

This is the first time that body morphology of leaders has been used as a potential biomarker of effective leadership and the findings here doadd a new twist to the debate about whether effective leaders are born or made. However it’s not the asymmetry per se that positions people to be good transformational leaders. Instead, it’s the way that individuals’ respond to others due to the perceived (and completely erroneous) shortcomings that are assigned to people who have an asymmetrical body that shape them for success as effective leaders in today's workplace.


Dr Carl Senior

Senior Lecturer in Psychology

Dr Senior has a long standing interest in social cognitive neuroscience and has dedicated himself to examining a range of behavioural moderators. His work has been published extensively in various high impact journals.