The Body Language of Leaders
Do you know an alpha?
Alpha: n The alpha is the individual in the community with the highest rank.
We all know someone who has a natural magnetism. Someone who walks into a room and people look. Someone who speaks and people listen. Someone who was born to lead. Or maybe that someone is you?
Alphas are very important in our society. Every group needs a leader to take charge in a crisis, set the tone, call the shots and set the standards. Typically the alpha, or leader of a group is the most ____ in a group. If it’s on an athletic team, they are the most athletic. In business it can be the most senior person. In dating it can be the most attractive person.
Alphas have a very specific set of nonverbal behaviors that signify to others in the group and to the outside world that they are the top dog. Let’s test your knowledge of the body language of leaders:
Do you know the body language of a leader?
1. What do leaders do?
A: Smile more
B: Smile less
2. What do leaders do?
B: Don’t Interrupt
3. What do leaders do?
A. Hold Eye Contact More
B. Hold Eye Contact Less
4. What do leaders do?
B. Stand Still
5. What do leaders do?
A. Nod as you speak to them.
B. Hold their head still as you speak to them.
1. Typically leaders smile less
Smiling is a subordinate behavior. Women smile more to please others and are therefore less often the alpha. If you are in a powerful room, smile purposefully.
2. Alphas interrupt
They speak and expect others to listen. Notice if a leader in your life interrupts you and then politely correct them with something like “I can’t get a word in with you!”
3. Trick question!
Alphas hold eye contact when they are speaking but look away when others speak to them. This is a very rude behavior and take note if you do this to others. If someone does it to you stop talking until they look back at you.
4. Leaders stand still
Leaders have less movement as they are observers, others move around them. People should try not to fidget, pace and hop if they want to be perceived as more powerful and in control.
5. Leaders keep their head very still
Nodding is a sign of submission. You can nod to show agreeableness but be aware of head bobbing!
Can your body language influence your power?
Amy Cuddy has argued that your nonverbal behavior not only affects others perception of how powerful you are, but it also changes your own feelings of confidence and power.
In her excellent TED Talk, “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are,” Cuddy briefly describes some high-power poses, but I would like to dig a little deeper into the body language and behavior of alphas.
Remember, an alpha is the individual in a community with the highest rank, most power or highest level of respect. Typically other community members exhibit deference towards the alpha and allow them preferential treatment or control.
Both male and female alphas have very specific body language and behavior. And, if you believe Cuddy’s prescription that behaving like an alpha will actually help you become an alpha, then you have to know exactly how to act.
Here is a deeper review of alphas high-power body language and some subtle ways to get started:
Steepling is when someone brings their hands up towards their chest or face and presses the tips of their fingers together. This is a gesture of confidence, self-assuredness and even superiority. This can easily be done to inspire confidence in yourself and others during a meeting or interview. This is an easy one for female alphas in particular since it is seen as assertive, not aggressive. Steeple not for you? Here are 19 other hand gestures you can try!
2. Smile Less
Contrary to popular belief, smiling is actually seen as a sign of submission. Submissive people tend to smile more at alphas to show they are agreeable and non-threatening to their power. Alphas in turn (think Clint Eastwood) smile much less because their power is enough to put people in line. Females in particular need to be careful not to over smile as it puts them in a submissive position. Dr. Nancy Henley found that women smile in 87 percent of social encounters, while men only smile 67 percent of the time.
3. Hands Behind Your Back
Another high-power position that you often see politicians do is when they put their hands behind their back and grab one wrist. The reason this can be powerful is that it exposes the most vulnerable part of the body–the groin for men and chest area for women. Only a supremely confident person will place their hands behind their back in that way. You often see principals or teachers do this as they walk up and down rows of student’s desks during tests.
4. Top Handshake
Alphas know how to shake hands. Not only do they give a firm handshake, but they also try to be the dominant hand in the handshake. A high-power handshake is when the dominant person has their hand ‘on top’ of the clasp. The weaker person will often take the bottom part of the handshake by exposing the underside of their wrist–which is a physically weaker position. You often see politicians jockey for the dominant handshake position when meeting in front of cameras. Two equals usually just shake hands up and down, with no one on the top or bottom.
5. The Colors You Wear
Power and confidence are not only shown through body language but also through what you wear. The two most powerful colors are black and red. Black is the color of mystery and power, while red is the color of aggression, passion and violence. You often see politicians wear black suits with red ties. Occasionally you will also see blue ties, this is because blue is the color of wisdom, loyalty and honesty. You can also use color psychology to your advantage as an alpha and think carefully about which colors you wear to work.
As Cuddy explains, being alpha is both a mental and physical state. And your actions have greater effect than originally thought as they can both influence your own behavior and others’ perceptions of your behavior. Start practicing the above body language and behavior in addition to picking up on clues from other alphas in your life and you will begin to feel alpha yourself.
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