The Body Language Of Leadership

Work + Money

Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D.

By Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D.

All leaders express enthusiasm, warmth, and confidence -- as well as arrogance, indifference, and displeasure through their facial expressions, gestures, touch, and use of space. If you want to be perceived as competent, open and candid, you need to recognize the importance of nonverbal communication.   

It is especially crucial for leaders to communicate congruently – that is, to align the spoken word with body language that supports (instead of sabotages) an intended message. When nonverbal messages conflict with your verbal messages, the people you are talking to become confused – and almost always believe what they see and not what you say. Mixed signals have a negative effect on performance and make it almost impossible to build relationships of trust.

For example: When a leader stands in front of a group of employees and talks about how much she welcomes their input, the message gets derailed if she hides behind a lectern, or leans back away from her audience, or puts her hands behind his back or folds her arms across her chest. All of those send closed nonverbal signals  – when the intended message is really about openness.

At your next face-to-face meeting with a team member or business colleague, remember to incorporate the following positive nonverbal messages:

  • Remove barriers between you and the other person. Take away things that block your view. Move the phone or stacks of paper on your desk. Better still, come out from behind your desk and sit next to the person you’re dealing with.
  • Face people directly (heart to heart). Even a quarter turn away signals your lack of interest and makes the speaker shut down.
  • Use palm-up hand gestures when speaking to signal openness. Keeping your movements relaxed, using open arm gestures, and showing the palms of your hands -- all are silent signals of credibility and candor. Individuals with open gestures are perceived more positively and are more persuasive than those with closed gestures (arms crossed, hands hidden or held close to the body, etc.).
  • Use palm-down gestures when you want to be perceived as decisive. Making a declarative statement while putting both hand palms down on the desk or table will underscore the fact that on this item you are standing firm.
  • Synchronize your body language with the person you are dealing with. Subtly match their stance, arm positions and facial expressions. When talking with someone we like or are interested in, we subconsciously switch our body posture to match that of the other person – mirroring that person’s nonverbal behavior and signaling that we are connected and engaged.
  • Use (but don't overuse) head tilts. Head tilts can be very positive cues, but they are also subconsciously processed as submission signals. If you need to assert your authority or affirm your role, keep your head straight up in a more neutral position.

Follow these simple suggestions and let your body language be the key to greater leadership success.

Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D., is an executive coach, author and keynote speaker who addresses association, government, and business audiences around the world. Her latest book and program topic is "THE NONVERBAL ADVANTAGE – Secrets and Science of Body Language at Work." For more information, contact Carol by phone: 510-526-1727, email:, or through her

More from Carol Goman:
Seven Seconds to Make a First Impression

Go back to the Kitchen Share Digg Tweeter Facebook StumbleUpon Send To a Friend


  • Thank you for this great information, always great to be reminded of our body language of what works and what dosen´'t work to communcate well.

    Posted by Bjargey, 16 March 2010.

  • Timely information, it’s just what I always wanted to know in simple language. This info should be inculcated in all students when taking college public speaking courses.

    Posted by Shebaj30, 9 March 2010.

  • I have to agree when doing presentations, I try never to stand behind the podium. Also your hands are important try not to close or clamp then together but keep the open and apart from each other, these are just a few things that I incorporate when presenting my products. Go to my website An Appointment with Ardyss will Change your life!

    Posted by Sharronhotsauce , 8 March 2010.

  • I read that women tend to nod their heads a lot. We do it to show that we understand but it could be taken as agreement. Great points.

    Posted by, 8 March 2010.

  • In our new "virtual" world, often, our communications are via email and telephone. We really miss a lot of information when we work that way. I appreciate this article.


    Posted by Lauren Klein, 8 March 2010.