When leading a team, body language as simple as eye contact or the crossing of the arms can convey a significant positive — or negative — message to employees. There are two sets of signals a business leader can communicate using just their body language. The first type of signal translates the leader’s status and authority. The second type of signal can convey warmth and empathy to the team members.
Status and authority can be seen in how a leader carries themselves. For example, a person’s posture when entering a room or sitting at a meeting can give off a signal of power and authority. Open hand signals, nodding one’s head, and making eye contact can promote feelings of warmth within a leader to the rest of the team. Stand or sitting up straight, making expansive gestures, and hold your shoulders back exudes a confidence in your leadership skills and what you are saying. When feeling less confident or uncertain people tend to shrink, minimize the space they take up. Legs and arms crossed, pulled in tight or slouching is a way to send a message of lack of confidence or even discomfort in the situation or discussion.
For the most part these gestures are unconscious. Recognizing and being aware, paying attention to what your body is saying is important if you want to be seen as a leader. Awareness of your body language, projecting a positive and even powerful body language can actually transform how you see yourself.
There is no good or bad body signal per se, but these signals can be used to either unknowingly or deliberately support or sabotage a message when relating to the team as a leader. As an experiment, a very gifted speaker delivered an incredible speech and concluded by asking if there were any questions and then crossing his arms. Not a single question was asked. The audience, without realizing it, saw this gesture as a complete contradiction to his request for questions.
Similarly, if a leader or speaker is less than 100% confident and certain of the message they are delivering to their audience, it will show in their speech, their body language, and even in their choice of words. In order to appear confident, leaders have to believe in what they are saying and assure their non-verbal is congruent.
Signals of warmth and empathy are equally important qualities of a good leader. Communication during one-on-one time with an employee, or when delivering a difficult message to a group of employees is crucial to gaining support and trust. Showing emotion through eye contact and facial expressions will tend to level the field of authority with your employees, and give them the confidence and feeling of trust they need to be honest and open with their leaders. You want to be a trusted leader with your employees and by projecting true empathy and approachability, your team responds accordingly.
If you have any questions regarding communications as a leader, please contact CAI’s Advice and Resolution team. We know that providing excellent direction in effective leadership is the very core of effective management.
CAI Advice & Resolution team member Renee Watkins is a seasoned HR professional with a diverse background in Human Resource. Renee provides CAI member with practical advice in a wide-range of human resource functions including conflict resolution, compliance and regulatory issues, and employee relations.