What Your Body Language Says About Your Leadership Skills

The way you hold yourself projects subtle clues to those around you. Whether or not you’re aware of it, you’re providing ideas about your trustworthiness, openness, and social stature.

We all take on certain body language cues depending on how we’re feeling.

If you’re feeling confident and in charge, you’ll naturally expand to take up space in a meeting or gathering. You’ll stand up straight, make expansive gestures, and hold your shoulders back.

If you’re feeling uncomfortable and uncertain, you’ll naturally shrink to minimize the amount of space you take up. You’ll sit with legs and arms crossed, you may rub the back of your neck, and you’re likely to slouch.

For the most part these gestures are unconscious. If you want to be seen as a leader, though, you need to pay attention to what your body language is saying.

Positive impacts – on others and on yourself

Projecting powerful body language is important for two reasons. First, it provides a signal to others that you’re a leader, that you’re trustworthy, and that you should be listened to.

But the flip side is that your body language can actually transform how you see yourself.

As Carol Kinsey Goman (the author of The Silent Language of Leaders) writes on Forbes: “You know that the way you feel affects your body. If you are feeling insecure or depressed, you tend to round your shoulders, slump, and look down. If you are upbeat and assured you tend to hold yourself erect and expand your chest. But did you know that the reverse is also true? Your posture has a powerful impact on your emotions and on the way that others perceive you.”

According to social psychologist Amy Cuddy, who gave a fascinating TED talk on body language, it’s possible to “fake it ’til you become it.” By taking on more powerful poses we can not only feel more powerful for a moment, we can actually become more powerful.

Body language for leaders

Projecting the body language of leadership is more than standing in power poses. Being seen as authoritative and dominant may help you take control of a meeting, but you also want to project empathy and approachability so that your team perceives you as trustworthy.

Project power and authority

Posture matters quite a bit when it comes to projecting authority. Slouching in your chair or letting your shoulders slump can projects tiredness and low self-esteem – and according to a study at Ohio State University, it can actually influence how confident you are in your own opinions. If you’re feeling confident in yourself, it’s easier to convince others.

Fidgeting is another habit to avoid if you want to appear credible. Scratching your neck, cracking your knuckles, or twitching your knee can give the impression that you’re anxious, nervous, or even lying. Instead, tap into your inner zen and try to stay fully concentrated on the meeting or conversation.

So what should your hands be doing? Try steepling your fingers, a classic gesture of power that helps emphasize your position. Alternately, clasp behind your back. In the animal kingdom, this opens up the torso (the vulnerable bits), which shows that the hand-clasper doesn’t feel threatened by those around him or her. In the human kingdom, think about a headmaster pacing the rows in a classroom.

Strong eye contact is another crucial element. Strong leaders generally make uninterrupted eye contact with their audience while they’re speaking, which connects them literally and figuratively with the listeners. Looking away from or past the person you’re talking to can make you seem flighty or insincere.

Project warmth and empathy

The most effective leaders aren’t just powerful figures to be obeyed – they also should inspire the trust and confidence of those underneath them.

To project openness and attentiveness to your team, use open palm gestures and a friendly stance. To encourage someone to speak up, lean forward and give him or her eye contact when they’re speaking. Nod your agreement, but be aware of nodding too much, which can make it seem like you’re trying to please your subordinates and undercuts your authority. Be careful of crossing your arms, which closes you off and can be perceived as combative or defensive.

By projecting leadership body language and confidence you’ll not only start to gain the unconscious trust of those around you, you’ll start to feel more confident yourself.

In other words, stop slouching and you can take on the world!

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Avatar photo Leah Anderson

I watched Amy Cuddy’s TEDtalk on body language a couple years ago and a colleague just recently brought it up again in a team meeting recently. This is a great post, and it’s really interesting to see how much data there is behind the power of body language in the professional environment. Thanks for posting!