Join Carol Kinsey Goman for an in-depth discussion in this video Establishing leadership presence, part of Body Language for Leaders.
- A new manager was attending a staff meeting. When it was over, her boss took her aside. "Never do that again," he said. "You were slouching and not paying attention." "But I was paying attention," the manager insisted. "I heard every word. "I'm totally on board." "That's all well and good," her boss went on, "but that's not how you came across to others. "You didn't look like you were "really present at the meeting. "You didn't look like a leader." Body language plays a key role in being perceived as a leader.
Here are three tips for increasing your leadership presence. First, sit tall. I invite you to try this right now. Sit in a chair with your legs crossed. Now, bring your elbows in to your waist. Clasp your hands together and place them on your lap. Then, slightly round your shoulders. Now, say, "I'm confident and powerful." In that posture, regardless of anything you said, most people would judge you as submissive and powerless.
Remember to sit tall. Pull your shoulders back, bring your elbows away from your body, uncross your legs, and place your feet solidly on the floor. It will not only change the way people perceive you, it will influence the way you feel about yourself. In fact, an Ohio State University study found that people who sat up straight were more likely to believe the positive comments they wrote about their qualifications for a job. Those who slumped over were less likely to accept their own statements as valid.
The second tip is to claim your space. Leadership presence is non-verbally displayed in the use of height in space. In fact, I've watched two executives of similar heights meeting for the first time and saw both men unconsciously stretch their bodies to increase the perception of tallness. If you're seated around a conference table, stand when you speak, and you'll gain instant status by becoming, for that moment at least, the tallest person in the room. If you move around, the additional space you take up will add to that impression, and if you're sitting, you can still project authority by spreading out your belongings on the table and claiming more territory.
Finally, use confident gestures. Hand gestures that supplement what you're saying can add energy, excitement, and passion, but over-gesturing, especially when your hands are raised above your shoulders, can make you appear out of control, less believable, and less powerful. Projecting certainty and authority is achieved by using smooth, controlled gestures, mostly at waist level. When you want to take control, use palm down hand signals.
Hold that thought. I'll be back to you in a minute. You've probably seen the steeple gesture. It's a favorite of executives and politicians, and it conveys a sense of assuredness. As such, it can be very effective when you want to emphasize a key point, but if you use that gesture, do so sparingly. Leaders who overuse steepling look staged and insincere. Moving your hands and arms away from the front of your torso is another way of demonstrating a high level of confidence, security, and trust.
The more you cover your body with folded arms or clasped hands, the more it appears that you need to protect or defend yourself. The next time you attend a meeting, become curious about what your body language is saying about your leadership presence. Ask yourself, "Do I look like a leader?" Then, make some minor adjustments. Maybe sit a little straighter, claim a little more space, or smooth out your gestures and let your body language become a leadership asset.