In one of my recent articles I have talked about the importance of dress in leadership. Today, I will address body language for leaders.
In the military, we have a phrase: “dress and deportment”. By combining these two concepts together, we constantly remind ourselves that one does not work without the other. Just as it’s important to make the right impression by being dressed for success, it’s equally important to behave in a way that instantly sets you apart as someone others will want to follow. It’s not hard, you just need to be aware of what you have to do and practice a bit.
Let me show you what I mean.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BODY LANGUAGE FOR LEADERS
Your body language affects your followers in more ways that you realize. Most of the communication that happens between humans is non-verbal, which means that we respond to each other’s posture, movements and gestures in ways we don’t even realize.
This is especially true between you and people you lead, because as their leader you are constantly the focus of their attention. The way you enter the room, the way you sit during meetings, the way you return their eye contact and the way you gesture when you interact with others are constantly on display and being analyzed.
Good leaders can motivate and inspire others with their presence alone, before they even say a word. They can project confidence and command respect from their followers by the way they act. Just think about all those great leaders that you know and admire. I bet their presence alone filled you with a certain level of desire to want to follow them!
SO, HOW DO LEADERS DO THIS?
Good leaders stand straight and don’t slouch. They maintain steady eye contact with those they are speaking to, while occasionally looking away. They walk slowly. After all, there is no need to rush when you have things under control, unless there is an emergency. They relax their shoulders and don’t fidget with their hands. They smile (smiling projects confidence and friendliness) and make precise gestures while speaking, keeping their arms motionless when listening. They keep their heads lifted, avoid constantly lookin down, and control their nervousness with slow, deep breaths.
All this makes them appear in control and projects confidence and trust in their abilities. Just by behaving the part of the leader, they motivate and inspire people with their presence alone.
The god news is you can do it too! If you are not yet a master of your own behavior, you can get there by practicing a few skills in a certain order. Let me show you how this works.
HOW TO MASTER YOUR BODY LANGUAGE
- POSTURE: Start each day by straightening your posture when you meet your team for the first time. Then, maintain that posture for the rest of the day. You don’t need to be rigid here – in fact, try to be straight but relaxed.
To achieve that, get in a habit of doing frequent shoulder rolls when you have some time to yourself. Backwards motion shoulder rolls are best, because they naturally straighten your spine. Complement that with some lower back stretches several times a day. It may take some time to get used to your new posture, but the effect will be more than worth it.
- EYE CONTACT: As you practice the above, start working on your eye contact. This is very important. Nothing erodes your leadership presence faster than not being able to meet someone’s gaze with confidence. So, start practicing eye contact every day.
This is actually fun to do, because you can do it virtually anywhere and in some surprising locations. The checkout person at your supermarket, the usher at the movie theatre, the passer-by on the street, the waiter at the restaurant, virtually any person you meet can be your unknowing practice partner.
To practice, maintain eye contact with them for a little longer than you are comfortable with, each time. Keep your head up and shoulders relaxed and take any opportunity you can to practice. This will seem a bit strange at first, so don’t overdo it, but challenge yourself to hold someone’s gaze longer than you normally would. In order not to look creepy, look away from time to time, but then get right back to it for another few seconds.
As you get better at being comfortable with keeping a relaxed eye contact with others, you will start coming across as more assertive and this is very important for someone in position of leadership.
- HEAD AND SHOULDERS: As you get more comfortable with keeping a relaxed eye contact with others, start paying attention to your head and shoulders – especially when you are sitting. Your shoulders should be relaxed and down, while your head alert and up. If you have a tendency to always look down to read from your notes, start placing your notes in front of you and slightly to one side, just below your eye level. This will automatically raise your head.
To help yourself maintain this naturally, take a few deep breaths every half an hour, inhaling the air all the way down to your stomach and then slowly letting it out. This will relax your shoulders naturally and align your head.
Overall, you will look more calm and much more self-assured. Your people will subconsciously mirror your behavior by relaxing as well and paying more attention to your words.
- HANDS: Hands are often a mirror to someone’s state of mind. If you are nervous, your hands will subconsciously fidget or look for something to do. If you are uncertain or unsure of yourself, your hands will tense and either try to hide or find something to squeeze. As a leader, you need to control this behavior.
Start paying attention to what your hands are doing during in various situations. Practice getting control of them by placing them in one position and keeping them there for a while. You can practice that when watching TV or listening to someone speak. Remind yourself that if there is no need for your hands to be doing anything, they should stay still.
This will be hard to do at first, especially if you are prone to fidgeting, but the effect will be worth it. Your followers subconsciously read your emotional state by watching the state of your hands. Keeping your hands relaxed will help you maintain control over your anxiety and will project calmness. You won’t feel it at first, but take my word for it – it will show to others!
- GESTURES: Of course, having your hands motionless at all times is creepy as hell! So, when you speak, you are allowed to gesture. In fact, you are encouraged! The key is to make sure your gestures are slow and controlled. This is something you can practice in the mirror, or by reciting short speeches to an empty room, while paying attention to your hands. The result may be a bit animated at first, but don’t worry – it will get better with time.
- SLOW DOWN: People who are confident and in charge don’t need to rush. They know that others will follow, even if they need to take their time. So, slow down your walk, your speech and your gestures. This will do wonders for how you are perceived by your team and will have a calming effect on your people, who will be more inclined to follow your lead.
You can practice this literally anywhere, even when you are at home after work. Slow things down just a tad and you will appear more confident and more magnetic to others. Just think of some of your favorite movie characters who exhibit confidence and leadership. I bet they only really rush when there is an emergency!
THE BENEFIT TO YOU
The above steps will get you well on your journey to mastering body language for leaders. You will need to practice to get there, of course, because chances are that by now you have developed many habits that will need to be undone. But it’s worth it!
With a strong, assertive and calm body language, you will be taken more seriously and command more respect. People will be more inclined to follow you, because you will appear more confident and in charge. Everyone likes those who appear to have it all together.
What’s more, your effort to gain control over your body language will also affect you internally. You will feel better the moment you see some results and this will in turn affect your confidence and your ability to succeed.
Also, don’t just stop there! Make sure you get all the advantage you can to become a true leader that others will want to follow. Get How to Be a Leader and learn how to inspire and motivate others to make them want to follow your vision and to be taken seriously as a leader and command strong respect. With this practical manual that teaches you how to become great at leading others from the ground up, you will have an advantage that you cannot get any other way.
If you like articles like this one, you can also subscribe to our newsletter. We mail out practical leadership tips twice a week. Finally, leave us a comment below with your experiences or questions on body language for leaders. We’d love to hear from you!