Body language plays a crucial role in leadership, not just in how we are perceived by others but also in how we perceive ourselves. When leaders are unaware of what their body is saying, it can create challenges that go beyond just the normal day-to-day problems of running an organization.
The image that I like to give leaders is that of the bow of a ship. As seen in the picture above, the bow is designed to cut through the water and displace as much of the energy as it can so that the ship can move forward. This metaphor is valuable on three levels:
1. Lean into your goal.
When leaders lean into their goal, the organization will follow. There is sometimes the temptation to push the team from behind, but this can cause confusion and anxiety among the team. By taking a posture (both internally and externally) that you are clear and confident where you are going, your organization will follow.
2. Cut through the details.
Organizations are often inundated with information and stimulus. The leader’s job is to use that information without losing sight of the goal. A leader’s ability to delegate, stay focused and move forward is dependent on his or her’s ability to not get bogged down in the details.
3. Convey confidence.
The bow of a ship is often described as being “proud” in a non-pejorative way. When we impose the image on a leader, we often think of someone with confidence, integrity and a sense of moral rectitude.
(Or, you know, General Washington)
The key is that when we imagine this image for ourselves, we actually take on the qualities of that image. (See Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk on body language.) When we can picture ourselves being the bow of a ship, we are physically less likely to curl into ourselves when confronted with complicated tasks or when trying to guide a team through a discussion.
(It kind of sends the wrong message…)
Seriously though, rather than be unconscious of what story our body is telling, we can choose to be more aware and maybe even change that story by choosing a more active posture.
(Like this one…)
Pay attention to your body language.
Think of yourself as the bow of a ship, leaning into the direction of the organization.
Alter how people receive you and how you feel about yourself.