What do I mean?
Well do you consciously pay attention to how you are being physically when you need to perform at a higher leadership level?
There is a growing body of research on embodied cognition – on how our physical state influences how we think, and ultimately how we perform. This is particularly important when it comes to how we lead, and even moreso as women in leadership.
Well because women are at a greater risk of what’s known as stereotype threat relative to men in leadership. This means that negative stereotypes of female leaders, when brought to mind by women in leadership can lead them to poorer leadership performance.
How can we harness the power of our body in order to lead with more power and influence?
Priming is the process through which we trigger thoughts of empowerment and power over others before we engage in a task. When you are primed it means you have already brought into awareness an aspect of what you are about to engage in doing.
So we might remember a time when we led effectively, when everything was going well. We may ask ourselves what was I doing? How did I feel? Where in my body did I feel it? We may play through the scenario focusing on the small details.
Visualisation used in this way is an incredibly powerful tool and is known to enhance performance and resilience. If we visualise ourselves doing something well or coping with a challenge it increases our confidence in our ability and our courage to try.
Posture, power and emotion
You may have heard of power poses right? Standing with arms up, feet hip width apart a bit like a power ranger pose? There has been some debate regarding the extent to which power poses actually influence our confidence. Amy cuddy's Ted talk first brought to light the potential power of standing in a power pose on our feelings of power and confidence, and since that time quite a lot of research has been done exploring the extent to which these findings can be repeated and not all of them can.
Amy Cuddy and colleagues reviewed 55 studies that have explored posture and they found that performance on some tasks is linked with posture and some are not. The main findings were that having an open posture - a posture where your shoulders all back your chin is up and your weight is evenly balanced regardless of whether you're sitting or standing is linked to positive emotion, our ability to regulate emotion and how we perceive ourselves.
So if we feel more powerful we perceive ourselves as more powerful and we perform in a way is aligned with our beliefs in that moment.
A recent study showed that when women are primed by images of a well known powerful female leader, they mimic the posture of that leader and perform better in public speaking tasks. This was not the case if the leader was well known but male, or if the leader was unknown to participants.1
Posture and creative thinking
Another important leadership trait is to be able to engage in creative thinking. As a leader you are going to encounter challenges and problems some of which for the first time regardless of how seasoned you are.
Effective leadership requires us to be able to think creatively and guide others to do the same - this may mean needing to come up with many possible solutions, or to create a novel solution from previous solutions that no longer work.
Research shows that we are able to be more creative if we adopt an open posture particularly when we need to come up with new ideas. This is perhaps not surprising as the broaden and build theory of emotion suggests that positive emotion leads to more creative thinking processes. Research shows that if we can harness the power of our posture to trigger positive emotion then it's going to impact our ability to perform creatively and think creatively as leaders.
However, if we need to be more focused with our attention what we need to do is to be conservative and more constrained physically and this enables us to be more constrained in our thinking - it has been found that if we are having to engage in convergent thinking - such as trying to identify underling patterns or commonalities across data, a more closed posture enhances our performance.2
How to apply in practice?
So you have 3 reasons why as a leader you need to embrace the power of an open posture:
First it will make you feel as though you have more power that will make you feel empowered;
Second it will make you feel more positive it will lift your mood and it will enable you to regulate your emotions as well, and
Third it will help you think more creatively.
So how do you do this?
Sit or stand with your weight evenly over your feet, shoulders back, not hunched, arms relaxed (not crossed or folded), shoulders relaxed head neutral, make eye contact and smile!
If you're having team meetings and need to create ideas get your team to stand up and walk as they think, and have a whiteboard for them to brainstorm their ideas on.
If you want to know how self awaren you are, take my How Sustainable is your Self-Leadership? quiz. The quiz leads to a personalised report with links to amazing FREE resources.
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Latu, I. M., Mast, M. S., Bombari, D., Lammers, J., & Hoyt, C. L. (2019). Empowering mimicry: Female leader role models empower women in leadership tasks through body posture mimicry. Sex roles, 80(1), 11-24.
Michinov, N., & Michinov, E. (2020). Do Open or Closed Postures Boost Creative performance? The Effects of Postural Feedback on Divergent and Convergent Thinking.