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The Silent Language of Leaders: Are you sending the right signals?

As a leader, you’re always on display. That’s why it’s important to know what non-verbal signals you’re sending.

Your body language – posture, arm gestures, facial expressions, etc. – speaks volumes to your employees and others, say researchers. Your leadership presence, in particular, is comprised of two sets of nonverbal signals, says Carol Kinsey Goman, author of The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help or Hurt How You Lead:

  • Power and authority: You display these qualities through your posture – standing or sitting tall with your feet hip distance apart, head straight and shoulders back.
  • Empathy and likeability: This is conveyed through smiles, positive eye contact and open palm gestures.

Whether you’re in a one-on-one meeting with someone on your team or giving a presentation to a roomful of board members, you’re sending nonverbal signals that shape others’ opinions of you. Are you coming across as the influential leader you aim to be?

Too many “power signals” can make you appear aloof, yet too much warmth can stop you from commanding the attention of others.

What’s your body language saying?

Oftentimes, it’s subtle body language that draws people to you. Here’s what experts say is how to convey the right power stance:

Head straight. A manager should hold her head straight and avoid tilting it to one side, Goman. The head can be tilted slightly back, but not too much, or risk coming across as arrogant.

Eye contact. Too little eye contact can make you seem deceptive, but too much can turn into a “stalker stare,” says Goman. When meeting someone, look them directly in the eye, making sure to focus on an imaginary triangle formed by the eyes and the forehead. Looking anywhere below the eyes can come across as unprofessional, she says.

Making a point. When motioning to someone, use your hand rather than a finger. Using your finger is too aggressive, says Joe Navarro, author of What Every Body is Saying.

Steepling. Whether sitting or standing, building a steeple with your fingers and putting the tips together conveys that you’re confident, says Navarro, a former FBI agent who studied steepling with mock jurors. He found that attorneys, or witnesses, who hide their hands, were perceived as less open and honest by the jurors, while people who have great confidence about what they’re talking about will use steepling. In fact, it is probably the most powerful display of confidence that you can possess, he adds.

The power of the pause. Speaking slowly and pausing makes you seem more authoritative, says Amy Cuddy, author of Presence. The faster you talk, the less authoritative you seem.

Body language is a valuable tool to add power to your leadership presence, making you feel that you’ve got power literally in the palm of your hands. When you reinforce your message with your body language, your leadership will be that much more compelling, influential, and, of course, authoritative.

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