Body Language of a Leader

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The letter L!eadership is an extremely important trait to have when faced with head-judging a tournament, or when leading a team. You will need it if you intend on taking control of a group of people to solve a problem or to get a project started.

How can you recognize a leader? When you walk into a room full of people, a quick glance can often reveal that one person is the boss of this place. He looks like he is fully in control, like nothing could happen to him. It shows in everything he does. Now, if that kind of person would ask you to do something for him, will you accept? Absolutely! Everyone is watching the two of you, so refusing to help will make you look like a fool.

So, is the leader the guy everybody keeps looking at? Yes, although not just in the literal meaning. It's the person people turn to when they need something solved and when they're looking for directions.

In this article, I will show you how adopting the leader's body language can make you one. The body language is the result of a mindset, but the mind is also affected by the body. Not convinced? Then let me suggest you try this quick exercise.

Put a smile on your face. A big one, even if a little fake, will do. Now, while keeping that smile upon your face, try to remember the most depressive memory you can.

Try it now. I'll wait.

Cannot remember anything unhappy? It's because of one simple fact: unhappy memories are incompatible with a smile. If you smile, you just cannot think of anything sad. Body language is so powerful it can influence what you are thinking. You can look confident because you are confident, but you can also gain confidence simply by using confident stances and gestures.

Let's look at some body language elements that will help you stand out as a leader.

1. Standing

A leader isn't afraid of getting in the crowd. He doesn't need to be standing on a stage to be the center of attention. That's why it's always a good idea, even when you're head judging a tournament with a stage in the venue, to be standing on the floor in front of the stage. In that position, you can oversee everything and you are not creating unnecessary distance between you and other judges. A leader is not afraid of having people come and talk to him. There is no question he can't answer, no problem he can't solve.

The standing position of the leader is open and welcoming. He even looks like he could fall down if you pushed him. Why care about that? He owns the place and he knows it, so nobody would try that anyway.

How can you adopt such a posture? (Little disclaimer: the following can vary a bit in effectiveness depending on your morphology. In particular, some options won't be as comfortable if you're a woman. I'll give some suggestions, but feel free to try and adapt.)

Feet and Legs

You've got two options here.

The first is to hold your feet at about shoulder's distance from one another, the feet forming an angle slightly smaller than a right angle. This is called the anchor position, because almost nothing can move you out of position.

The second option is to stand with all your weight on one leg, and rest the other leg so that the feet form a right angle. This is a really relaxed position: it's both vulnerable and inviting.

In addition, you can cross your legs and rest one foot on its tip if you're leaning against a wall or a column. This may look flirty, but it works!

Hands, Arms, Shoulders

People will feel more at ease if they can see your hands. Holding them behind your back makes you look like a sergeant who's reviewing his troops. That's not a very inviting posture, so I don't recommend it unless you don't want anyone to speak to you for a moment.

Crossed arms are also not very inviting. They give the impression that you are angry or that you want people to do what you tell them without discussion.

Holding your hands in your pockets, especially if the thumbs are inside too, indicates a lack of involvement, a certain detachment from what's happening. You want to avoid this, as the leader is interested in what's happening around him.

Now for the more relaxed positions: hands joined in front of you, either one hand holding the other hand's wrist, or one hand inside the other, palms facing up. These are especially easy to do if you've got a beer belly!

Another good one is having one hand inside a pocket, with the thumb sticking out, the other hand resting on your thigh. If you're a woman, a nice option is to rest one hand on your hip (just one!).

If your shoulders are closed, bent forward as in an effort to protect the chest, they will dissuade people from coming to you. If they are open – that is bent backwards – they will look inviting. They can also be tense and pull upward, or relaxed. To relax your shoulders, simply hold them high then release them. The natural position they will fall into is both relaxed and relaxing.

Movement

Being the leader also means being an example for the others, so it's really important that your attitude reflects the one you want everyone to have. Would you prefer everyone to be running around, looking for help or looking lost? Or would you prefer everybody to show they're in control and that nothing can happen to them?

Your gestures should be slow and controlled. When you survey the venue, move your eyes slowly and smile at people. Nothing but serenity should transpire from you. Try this little exercise when you are overseeing something:

Move at half-speed. If you have to turn around, do it at half the normal speed. If someone talks to you, wait for two or three seconds before answering. If you have to look somewhere, move your eyes first, and turn your head slowly.

Try it and feel how relaxed you can become!

To be a leader you must also be aware of what's happening around you. To show this, stand up straight when you're walking. Avoid slouching, which mainly shows tiredness and disinterest. Not only that, but by slouching you will end up tired!

Eyes

If somebody walks up to you, make eye contact with him. Even though you probably want to keep an eye on the venue, eye contact is essential to any discussion and says "I'm listening to you."

Don't lose sight of what's happening around you, but make eye contact at all crucial moments, especially when you meet someone. If you look at them in the eye, they will feel important and cared for. Making someone feel important is one of the surest ways of gaining that person to your cause.

Smile!

The goal of a leader is to make people want to work for him. He should be welcoming and looking as if he's having great fun doing whatever he's doing. Smiling is a very simple way of making people want to approach you and talk to you. Be sincere – a smile is a gift that asks for nothing in return, and you can give as many smiles as you want. If you're having fun, the people surrounding you will subconsciously pick up your attitude and will be having fun too.

2. Sitting

Something as simple as sitting can be very telling about a leader's confidence. A shy person will lean forward while sitting, cross his arms and legs, look down, and frown. A leader will lean on the back of his chair, have his legs uncrossed, hands either on the table in front of him, or gently resting on his thighs. You can go even further: lean back even more (seemingly floating in the chair), be asymmetrical, occasionally hold one hand behind your neck, and look as if you're both relaxed and ready to jump out of your chair. The leader owns the place, so he isn't afraid of occupying all the space. It's a commanding position, and makes you look attractive.

When you see some people sitting around a table, you can immediately tell those who are in need of social contact from those who get it naturally. Those that display a need are those who are leaning forward in an uncomfortable position. They want something badly. A leader doesn't want anything, he just gets it. A leader doesn't need to go towards people, people flock to him. He will naturally lean backwards.

3. Talking to a Group

One of the frequent and important duties for a leader is to address a group of people. It can be a speech, a briefing, or any other kind of gathering. Let's see what the leader does to stand out among a crowd.

Position

When talking in front of a small group, standing or sitting doesn't make a big difference. Following the guidelines above should be enough.

On the other hand, when addressing a big crowd, it's better to be standing, possibly on an elevated stage if there is one. Avoid doing it from behind a table as that makes you lean forward to be able to reach the people and so reduces your impact as a speaker. A good compromise, if all you have is a small stage with a desk on it, is to sit on the desk and lean back a bit, provided the desk is strong enough to bear your weight.

When you address players of a tournament, it's much better if they are sitting at the tournament tables. That's why the first significant speech of a tournament is often given during the seat-all players. When you speak to judges, it will be more effective if you gather them around you in a half-circle, relatively close to you. They can either be all standing or all sitting.

When calibrating your voice's volume, look for visual clues from those in the back. If some people are distracted or turn their ears towards you, it's probably time to speak louder.

Eyes

A leader looks at all the audience when he speaks. He never spends too much time looking at one person, since he's not only addressing that person, but the whole group. For a group of ten people or less, make eye contact with everyone at the start, then spend a bit of time looking at each member of the audience, without forgetting anyone. This will make everyone feel comfortable and important.

For a larger group, the goal is also to make everyone feel important. However, you probably won't be able to look at everyone individually. One solution which I feel works quite well is to mentally separate the audience in three parts, left, center, and right, and to alternate looking at these.

Talking

Distribution of talking time is paramount. A leader is never distracted, but when someone raises the hand and wants to intervene, he will get to speak or ask a question. Nothing frustrates the public more than questions that go unhandled, or questions that are interrupted halfway through. It's okay not to answer a question if you don't have the time: just tell the person who's asking to come to you at a later time. It's not good, however, to interrupt people while they speak. They will try to sneak in the rest of their sentence anyway, and you run the risk of misunderstanding the question and of losing that person's respect.

When speaking in a large hall, you should speak more slowly, so as to let the words reach the back of the hall and to reduce the impact of echoes. Long words will also be easier to understand than short ones, because they will be less likely to be confused with other words. "Pairings are posted" is thus more effective than "pairings are up."

If you need to refer to written notes, I've found it useful to rehearse some of these in advance, and to learn your introduction by heart. Why the introduction? Simply because the first impression you give is the most important one, and it helps to be able to look at all the audience during the minute or two you'll introduce yourself and the subject you're going to talk about.

Later on, it's okay to refer frequently to your notes, as long as you don't try to read from them. Prefer using simple reminders, where you won't spend more than three to four seconds finding the next step of your speech. Use silences to refer to your notes: stop talking, keep looking at your audience for a couple seconds, then read your paper, look up, and resume talking. This will help you keep your audience interested, while they wait for the next topic.

Consider also learning your conclusion, as it gives the last impression, the one you are leaving the group with. Don't forget to let them ask any final questions they may have.

Gestures

Gestures with hands should correspond to the message you want to get across. Use ample hand movements, open your shoulders. Avoid fidgeting, which makes you look shy and unsure of yourself. Avoid playing with an object with both of your hands, since joining your hands will naturally close your position. Furthermore, the object will distract the audience from your message. As stated earlier, avoid crossing your arms, as it would transmit a feeling of uneasiness towards the public; and holding your hands behind your back, as though imitating a colonel lecturing his troops, isn't the most inviting stance. Your hands should illustrate and/or reinforce your speech, not take away the public's attention from it.

Walking around a bit can be a good idea. One of the most important concepts in psychology is the association of positions in space with various roles and/or ideas. It's what we call anchors. If you're role-playing two people talking to each other, then when speaking for one of them, look to the right, and for the other look to the left. You can go as far as changing your voice and using different mimics to help distinguish the two.

Along the same line, you can use two different spots when talking about the past and the future. Hold the past in your right hand, which is to the left of the public on a virtual timeline. Then, when talking about the future, point to your left, which is to the right as seen from the public. The same tactic can be used to separate problems and questions from solutions and answers.

Everything that underlines your speech is going to reinforce it, to the point where even those who disagree with you will see your point of view, hear your arguments, and feel your confidence.

Conclusion

Because your body language is a fundamental part of what people will perceive of you, and because it can help you get the correct mindset, it can really be worth it to consider the body language you're using when you're in a leadership position. Have someone observe you from afar and tell you what you look like. It can be astonishing to discover just how much information you reveal through your stances and your gestures. Give the various suggestions in this article a try and feel the difference!

I would like to mention Claire Dupré, Sébastien Grass, Pierre Laquerre, and Ingrid Lind-Jahn, without whom this article would have remained a mere bunch of notes. Thanks a lot guys!

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