Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Deep-voiced bosses bring in the big bucks, says study

By Vanessa Ko, for CNN
May 30, 2013 -- Updated 0253 GMT (1053 HKT)
Speak up: Low-voiced chief executives tend to run bigger companies
Speak up: Low-voiced chief executives tend to run bigger companies
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A new study shows that the lower a CEO's voice, the larger his company and paychecks tend to be
  • It is still unclear why lower-voiced CEOs are more successful
  • Image consultants say executives can learn to alter voice pitch
  • Leaders can also convey power by how they dress

(CNN) -- It is well know that leaders at the highest echelons of politics and business tend to be taller -- an advantage called the "height premium." Now, research shows a similar correlation with voice pitch: the lower a CEO's voice, the larger his company and paychecks tend to be.

The new study, led by professors at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business and the University of California at San Diego, looked at the voice pitches of nearly 800 male CEOs speaking in public in the U.S.

Past research already showed that in a laboratory, where researchers played voices that had been artificially manipulated to various pitches, people preferred the lower ones as leaders. So this latest report took the study to the next step, seeing if the experiments translated to the success level of real CEOs.

"It appears that the labor market is matching deeper-voiced individuals with larger firms, which means this is influencing boards of directors' judgments, perhaps," said William Mayew, associate professor at Fuqua, who headed the study.

But Mayew says researchers still need to figure out why this matching is happening for it to have meaningful applications.

"What we don't know yet is where the benefit comes from. Does it come from cutting through red tape in a big corporation a bit faster if you're more authoritative or dominant vocally?" he said.

Read more: Bullying bosses dominate their way to power

Voice pitch could also be related to other physical characteristics that suggest dominance, such as how tall you are, how big you are, what your facial structure is -- and it is still unclear if other factors like these are the true influencers of becoming a high-earning CEO.

What we don't know yet is where the benefit comes from. Does it come from cutting through red tape in a big corporation a bit faster if you're more authoritative or dominant vocally?
William Mayew, Duke University

While research like this may imply that aspiring leaders who are short and have a high voice pitch are genetically disadvantaged, Mayew says this view places too much weight on a few physical traits.

"It takes a lot of different features that come together in order to make a person who he or she is, and I think it'd be premature to suggest that if you had a high-pitched voice or if you were short that you just have no shot of ascending to leadership ranks. There's much more to it," he says.

While Mayew acknowledges there are ways for CEOs to change how to speak, such as through presentation training, he is skeptical about the usefulness of speaking in an unnatural way or dressing a certain way to make up for physical disadvantages. If executives all take the same measures, he says, then one's position relative to other CEOs does not change.

"There are certain bounds that we're just born with," he says.

Read more: Neurotics make good teammates

But leadership coaches, part of whose job it is to help leaders improve their self-presentation, have long been advising clients on ways to speak to come across as more commanding.

"Voices can indeed be changed and the pitch, pace, tonality and voice pattern can be modified to exude power, control, and position someone as the obvious leader," says Gloria Starr, an image and etiquette consultant.

Using words with two, three or four syllables gives the perception of a high education, she says. Using fewer words, and omitting complaints or explanations are other ways to convey power.

"Women tend to give their power away when they 'chat,' go on and on endlessly," Starr says.

Starr says to look successful in the workplace, executives should dress in one color, which adds height, and wear plain fabric rather than patterned styles. Women should maintain a consistent business look and avoid open-toe sandals, bare legs and dangling or sparkling jewelry in the workplace. "Trust is higher when an elegant, sophisticated business look is consistently presented," she says.

Read more: Why we pick bad leaders

When one of her male clients moved into an executive role, she says, she suggested that he stop wearing short-sleeved shirts, because it is a "blue-collar look."

Starr also advises against dressing down on the weekends or when traveling. Not only does professional attire lead to more upgrades and perks at restaurants, on flights and in hotels, but there is always a chance of striking up business relationships during this downtime, like when seated on a plane.

As for how executives, especially men, should carry themselves: "No hands in your pockets ever," she says.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Route to the Top
March 28, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
A woman passes the logo of WEF on the second day of the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos on January 27, 2011.
Women now account for a fifth of FTSE 100 executive board members -- but is the glass ceiling in Britain finally beginning to crack?
March 25, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
Julia Hobsbawm is known the "queen of networking." We ask her how she connects with people in the digital age.
March 18, 2014 -- Updated 1057 GMT (1857 HKT)
What can the world's leading bosses teach you about leadership? Check out our interactive to find out.
March 7, 2014 -- Updated 1428 GMT (2228 HKT)
How did Bill Gates reach the top? Find out in the Microsoft founders own words.
March 4, 2014 -- Updated 1114 GMT (1914 HKT)
Actors dressed as ancient Roman soldiers march in a commemorative parade during festivities marking the 2,766th anniversary of the founding of Rome on April 21, 2013 in Rome, Italy. The capital celebrates its founding annually based on the legendary foundation of the Birth of Rome. Actors dressed as the denizens of ancient Rome participate in parades and re-enactments of the ancient Roman Empire. According to legend, Rome had been founded by Romulus in 753 BC in an area surrounded by seven hills. (Photo by Giorgio Cosulich/Getty Images)
The C-Suite. Near mythical in status. The Valhalla you reach in corporate life when you've made it. So, how do you get there?
November 1, 2013 -- Updated 1400 GMT (2200 HKT)
A collage of favorite executive technologies.
We asked five of the world's leading executives what item of tech has best helped them streamline their productivity at work.
October 31, 2013 -- Updated 1552 GMT (2352 HKT)
Greed, envy, pride and wrath: Four of the seven deadly sins and the subtext of many a cautionary tale. But could these complex traits also be of use at work?
October 8, 2013 -- Updated 2130 GMT (0530 HKT)
Entrepreneur and author Andrew Keen explores why the office could soon be a thing of the past.
October 24, 2013 -- Updated 1455 GMT (2255 HKT)
An unemployed worker holds a up sign on a street corner in Washington, DC.
How can the millennial generation nab the perfect job? Career expert, Dan Schawbel gives his eight top tips.
October 4, 2013 -- Updated 1513 GMT (2313 HKT)
What's the best way to tell your boss you quit? We look at five great resignation stunts from the past.
October 1, 2013 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
Sir Alex Ferguson celebrates after his Manchester United side beat Stoke City in April 2014.
Football managers are high profile leaders in sport but can they also offer valuable business insights?
June 27, 2013 -- Updated 0827 GMT (1627 HKT)
The global financial crisis has made college degrees more important than ever in raising personal income, a new study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has found.
June 21, 2013 -- Updated 0232 GMT (1032 HKT)
Take a look inside some of the offices of Silicon Valley's most well-known companies.
ADVERTISEMENT