The Most Important Body Language Signal for Leadership Presence

The Most Important Body Language Signal for Leadership Presence

The Most Important Body Language Signal for Leadership Presence

I see it all the time. When people find out that I am a keynote speaker on Leadership Presence and Body Language, they all do the same thing: they change their posture - holding their head higher, pulling their shoulders back and tightening their abdominal muscles.

In doing so, people are transformed, instantly looking more powerful, confident, and energized. And they remain that way for about 60 seconds. That’s how long it takes most of us to relax back into our usual way of sitting or standing. And “usual” for too many of us is the result of old injuries or current bad habits from activities like sitting hunched over at the computer with shoulders rounded and head pushed forward -- which over time makes it feel normal to hold our bodies improperly.

While there are numerous studies that relate good posture to health, I know that posture is also crucial to performance and career success. Without a state of balance in the body (which is my definition of perfect posture) people aren’t able to reach their full potential in any business activity – and certainly not in leadership. How many slumping CEOs have you seen? 

Posture affects how people perceive you. Just as someone with good posture sends nonverbal signals of energy, confidence, and health, a person with poor body posture appears uninterested, uncertain, or insecure -- which is not the impression that any of us want to project to our bosses, customers, and colleagues.

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Posture Affects Confidence in Our Own Opinions and Abilities

An Ohio State University study found that people who sat up straight were more likely to believe what they wrote down concerning their qualifications for a job. On the other hand, those who were slumped over their desks were less likely to accept their own written-down statements as valid.

Good Posture Makes us Tougher

A joint study by the USC Marshall School of Business, and J.L. Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, found that by simply adopting more dominant poses (open and expansive posture), people felt in control and were able to tolerate more physical pain and emotional distress.

Posture Matters More than Hierarchical Power

Research from Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, discovered that "posture expansiveness," positioning oneself in a way that opens up the body and takes up space, activates a sense of power that produces behavioral changes in a person independent of their actual rank or role in an organization. In fact, it was consistently found across three studies that posture mattered more than hierarchy in making a person think and act in a more powerful way.

We know instinctively which nonverbal signal is the most crucial for business success. (Our mothers were right!) When we improve our posture, through attention, reformed habits, or exercise, we display more energy, resilience, and confidence. In essence, we look and feel like leaders!

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Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D.

Leadership Expert

Carol is an international keynote speaker at conferences, business organizations, government agencies, and universities. She addresses a variety of leadership issues, but specializes in helping leaders build their impact and influence skills for fostering collaboration, building trust, and projecting that illusive quality called "leadership presence." She is the author of "STAND OUT: How to Build Your Leadership Presence." and the creator of LinkedIn Learning's video course, "Body Language for Leaders." Carol completed her doctorate in the United States. She can be reached at

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