How Powerful Posture Makes You A Better Leader

Your grandmother often poked at you, “sit up straight,” she’d say. And, she was right to do so.

According to recent studies, posture determines the power position of a person—sometimes high, sometimes low. This means, for managers and business leaders, your posture can actually determine who takes you seriously and who, simply, does not.

How did this study come about?

“There is a gender grade gap in the MBA classroom; men slightly outperform women. It’s competitive; you really have to get in there. I noticed in class that women tended to make themselves small, holding their wrist, wrapping their arms around themselves. Guys tended to make themselves bigger….” Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy explains to Danielle Venton in an interview for Wired Magazine.

Old adages remark that confidence is all about how you carry yourself. Now, it was time to confirm the idea with data.

“We know from studies of facial feedback that if you smile, you fake yourself into feeling happier,” continues Cuddy.

In fact, Cuddy is absolutely correct that smiling is, literally, contagious. According to a study at Uppsala University in Sweden, it is physically difficult to frown when faced with somebody who is smiling.

And, even if you have to fake it, smiling—both mimicked and sincere—stimulates the brain, increasing mood-enhancing hormones, such as endorphin, and reducing stress-enhancing ones, like cortisol.

So, the mere act of smiling not only improves your own mood, but everybody around you, too.

“We wondered whether just asking people to spread out would help them feel more powerful, and it did.”

According to Cuddy, effective leaders have similar, predictable hormone profiles: high levels of testosterone, low levels of cortisol. Cuddy just needed to find postures that would impact these levels, which are flexible.

“When an individual takes over the alpha role, their testosterone rises and their cortisol drops. We found two minutes in a power pose—arms and legs stretched out—spikes a person’s testosterone and drops their cortisol. It works for both genders,” Cuddy says about her experiment.

For law firm managers, this is good news. You can affect how others perceive your leadership qualities simply by changing your stance. Spreading out your arms and legs in a high-power position will give you a higher image of authority.

Per Cuddy’s suggestions, on conference calls, lean back in your chair and place your feet on the desk. This posture will alter your hormone levels and will help you feel more powerful in the conversation.

When faced with important clients, adopt a high-power position. This will give you an added air of confidence and control regarding their case.

Power poses can lead to better job performance, result in quicker decisionmaking, earn associates well-deserved promotions, and convince others that you belong on the partnership track. Apparently, striking a high-power pose is worth more than high billable hours. It’s possible to increase your standing at the firm simply by standing differently.

Just as smiling tricks your body into thinking you’re happier than you are, so changing your posture can provide a lift in confidence where there is none.

No doubt time, experience, and skill will create effective leaders. But, success often comes first to those who fake it until they make it.


Read more about Cuddy’s study in the interview, “Power Postures Can Make You Feel More Powerful” (Wired Magazine May 2012) here.


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