Can the way you stand or sit make you a better leader? Short answer: Yes, I believe it can. There are two main ways that this happens, and we’ll be talking about how you can put them both to work to enhance your ability to lead.
[watch the video above, or read the transcript below]
A Matter of Space
Throughout the animal kingdom, you see it. Animals use the way they stand and hold themselves to communicate their sense of place in their world. And when there is a question about who is the dominant animal, the alpha, the leader, much of the time they use size and space to settle the matter.
Whether it’s the lion’s mane, a cobra’s hood, a bear rearing up, or the spread of an elk’s antlers, the more space they take up, the more dominant they appear, and the more likely others will be to follow their lead. They communicate their leadership through their body position.
It works a lot the same way with people.
Impact on Others
As social beings we are hard-wired to be able to quickly sort out our own hierarchy. Nonverbal signals tell us where the threats are, who might be friendly, and who’s in charge (or think they are, anyway).
At first glance, we can usually make some pretty good guesses about the attitudes and confidence levels of others. Take this picture for instance. Who here looks like they might be a leader? In a matter of a few seconds, from among the 12 people in this image you can probably pick out a couple who seem to be confident, open, and in charge. Here’s my vote. Did you pick the same people?
If we agreed, than it may be because of that same influence from the animal kingdom – they look bigger. They are taking up space and increasing their size using what some have called “power poses.” These stances communicate that they think of themselves as leaders. And people naturally respond to that.
So if you want others to think of you as a leader, do the same thing. If you are standing, have a firm, shoulder-width stance. Face the person you are talking with squarely, have your chin up and make direct eye contact with the people you are talking with. And like in the picture, do something with your arms to further increase your size and openness – one or both hands on hips is one way, another is to have them behind your back.
You can even do this while sitting – take up more space by putting your arms on the table, over an adjacent chair, or even behind your head. These space-taking poses radiate confidence and put into people’s minds that you may be a leader.
Impact on Ourselves
But there is another interesting aspect to these power poses you may not be aware of – it’s the impact these poses have on you.
At the Harvard Business School, Amy Cuddy did a study that looked at how people stood and acted with their bodies, and the impact it had on their behavior.
In the study, she looked at two hormones – testosterone, which indicates a level of dominance, and cortisol which indicates stress. They started by testing a student’s initial levels of both. Then had the subject stand or sit in high power poses for two minutes, then tested again. The results were stunning.
It turns out that those who adopted some of the high power poses we just talked about experienced a boost of testosterone, making them feel more confident. And not just a little – 20%. At the same time cortisol dropped by 25% – their stress levels had fallen, they became calmer. Assuming the stance of a leader made them more leader-like: calm and confident.
Low power poses had the opposite effect – crossed arms and ankles, lowered chin – standing or sitting small led to significant testosterone drops and rises in cortisol. Standing or sitting like a follower made them more follower-like: less confident and more stressed out.
Power Poses – Take Action
What can we do with this information? Before you go into a situation in which you will be facing others, adopt a few power poses for a couple minutes. Open up your body, and stand straight and tall like superman or wonder woman, and you will get a little testosterone boost. You will actually start to feel more confident and will be able to act more confidently.
While you are with people, keep it up, and the good chemicals will continue to flow. When you hold yourself in ways that communicate your confidence, others will see you more as a leader, and your own body will adjust to help you perform better as a leader.
Over time, it will feel less and less like acting, and more and more natural – like it’s just the normal way of being a leader. Because it is.
This video is part of a larger leadership course called the Essential Leadership Skills for the New Manager course. If you would like to learn more about leadership and get a quick handle on key skills you can put to work immediately to help you become a better leader, check out more free videos and course information at this link, and…