AUSTIN, May 1, 2013 - When you envision a leader, you may think of someone tall, strong, confident, intelligent and authentic with the ability to inspire others. When you think of a leader’s voice, you may think of someone whose voice is authoritative, clear, energetic, and deep. Academic research has shown that, historically, a lower pitch has been associated with leadership and authority. As we noted in a previous Quantified Communications analysis, this proclivity may be due to evolution. In the past, when a leader’s responsibilities were primarily physical, testosterone (which contributes to lower pitch) was a good indicator of potential leadership skills. But our view of competent leadership has changed. While in the past we would look for someone who could protect us physically, we now need leaders who can protect us by their intelligence, through the decisions they make. So we wondered, as our leadership ideals change, are the characteristics of leaders also changing?
At Quantified Communications we perform communications analytics to help people and enterprises become better communicators. For this leadership analysis, we decided to analyze the voices of the top 10 male and female executives according to lists from Forbes and Fortune. Vocal leadership research of the past would lead us to believe that top executives’ vocal pitch scores should be lower than their peers of the same sex in our communications database. Although our theory held true for the male executives, we found very different results for the women. As shown in Figure 1, the average of the ten female voices we analyzed (including CEOs such as Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo and COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg) was 188.8 Hz, which is very close to the average of all the women in our communications database (193 Hz).
In Figure 2, the pitches for the top business women vary greatly and are generally higher than average.
From this pitch analysis, one can observe that as gender equality slowly evolves in the workplace, the characteristics associated with leadership may begin to shift. Both men and women in positions of power are using their voices effectively in order to be seen as credible and trustworthy. They are speaking within their ideal pitch range, the range at which speakers put the least amount of stress on their vocal chords. They come across as authentic and credible because they are using an authentic voice. As we look for leaders, regardless of sex, who are trustworthy, authentic, and credible, our understanding of non-verbal vocal cues are beginning to change.
So if pitch is not a surefire sign of leadership and authority, is there another measurement we can use? Our analysis brought to light a new potential indicator: vocal energy. Although vocal energy encompasses a few different factors, we look to variation in amplitude to measure the overall energy level of a speaker. What is exciting from a communications feedback perspective is that unlike pitch, vocal energy is a characteristic that can be easily manipulated by the speaker. As shown in Figure 3, both the male and female executives we evaluated use more vocal energy than the averages of our communications database.
In order to explore this theory further, we revisited our analysis of the last ten United States presidents. In our previous analysis we focused only on trends in their vocal pitch. This time, we looked at how their vocal energy has changed over the years. As you can see in Figure 4, we found that the vocal energy of the past three presidents has been higher than all the rest. Incidentally, the vocal pitch of Barack Obama was also the highest of any of the past ten presidents.
Gender equality in the workplace may be affecting us culturally on a level that no one is yet aware of. As we become more accustomed to hearing female vocal characteristics in positions of power, our cultural perception of “the voice of leadership” is changing. As with any cultural change, the process is gradual, but we may look to deeper voices less often to lead us and instead become more inclined to trust voices that use vocal energy effectively.
About Quantified Communications
Quantified Communications is the leading global provider of personal, professional, and organizational communication analytics. Our proprietary assessment methods have been developed in collaboration with the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University by applying natural language processing, voice mapping, gesture and facial recognition, predictive analytics, statistical norms, and machine learning to evaluate individual communications effectiveness. For more information, email email@example.com or visit www.quantifiedcommunications.com