Congratulations! You’ve reached the point in your career where you are managing other people. This means you have reached some success in your field–whether you are a stellar sales person, a seasoned financial planner, or a skilled architect.
But being deft with numbers or a killer negotiator doesn’t mean you know how to be the kind of manager people want to work for. In fact, many skilled professionals find themselves promoted into positions of authority without a clue how to convey the traits of a good leader.
If this sounds like you, it might be time to “fake it till you make it” and start taking control of the most powerful communication tool you have: your body language.
Here are seven leadership traits and the body language habits that will make your employees feel lucky to have you as their boss.
To convey integrity, sync your words and actions.
We tend to believe more of what we see than what we hear, so if you’re encouraging collaboration, don’t cross your arms or shove your hands in your pockets. If you’re extolling the bright future of a new product, don’t drop your gaze or shift in your seat. If you’re delivering bad news, don’t grin. And never give your attention, even for a second, to a text message or phone call. Better yet, leave your phone in your bag or at your desk.
To convey authority, take up physical space.
Rather than slouch in your seat, sit up straight and tall. Deliberately extend your arms, legs, and even your belongings into the space around you. Place your hands on the armrests, stretch out your legs, or place a notebook on the table as an “extension” of yourself. When you take up space, you signal that you are engaged, present, and here to make decisions. When you curl up into your chair or shrink into a corner, you’re saying: I’d rather follow than lead.
To convey approachability, position yourself at an angle.
If you’re a more aggressive personality type who naturally takes up space and easily conveys authority, your employees may be intimidated by you. Your goal should be to help them feel comfortable approaching you and sharing their ideas. Next time you are in a one-on-one discussion, take note of your body position. Are you aimed straight on to the other person? Are you invading their space? If so, take a step back and stand (or sit) at a 45-degree angle. This changes the vibe of the conversation, taking pressure off the other person so they can relax, think, and regain composure.
To convey control, keep your body still.
No matter how you might feel inside, never reveal impatience, anxiety, or boredom. Fidgeting, pacing, head nodding, leg twitching, toe tapping, face-touching, hair-pulling, chair-twirling–all of these behaviors signal a lack of self-control, which will not reassure your employees about your leadership abilities. If you’re a natural fidgeter, practice planting your feet firmly on the ground and letting your hands hang by your sides when you stand. When sitting, keep your lower body (and chair) in one place.
To convey confidence, show vulnerability.
People who lack confidence often use “self-soothing” body language that closes them off from others. Next time you are presenting to a group or talking one-on-one, observe your natural tendencies. Do you cross your arms, entwine your legs, put your hands in your pockets, or wring your hands? These behaviors signal insecurity and lack of confidence. Conversely, opening up your body shows vulnerability and signals confidence. So keep your shoulders back, chin up, hands by your sides, and legs uncrossed.
To convey empathy, listen actively.
Sure, you’re busy; you’ve got a dozen things on your mind and a mountain of things to do. But if you’ve taken the time to talk to someone, don’t let your “busyness” show. Instead, make them feel like the most important person in your world. While they’re talking, make eye contact, cock your head to the side, nod, and match your facial expressions to the spirit of what they’re saying. When it’s your turn to speak, don’t be in a hurry. Pause, take a breath, nod, and consider everything you have heard. Then respond thoughtfully, repeating back the essence of what the person just said.
To convey high expectations, control your facial expressions.
Your facial expressions alone are capable of demoralizing your employees and diminishing their odds of success. Consider the subtle message you convey when you roll your eyes, raise your eyebrows, frown, or purse your lips. Before you enter a meeting with your employees, be sure your face is free of tension by stretching your jaw and relaxing your facial muscles. Then, keep a neutral or positive expression on your face throughout the meeting.
How are your body language habits? Take the Quiz.