Body Language For Leaders

Whether you hold political office or run a company, being a leader is no easy task. While you may possess natural leadership qualities, that doesn’t mean you automatically know everything required of the person in charge.

This holds especially true in how you use your body language. While there are situations that you find your workplace nonverbal communication very effective at getting what you want, there are many others where you probably find yourself settling for lackluster results.

When it comes to nonverbal communication, having the flexibility to vary your signals will come in very handy for leaders. Being able to adjust your actions based on the situation gives you the power to convey exactly what you need, rather than being stuck providing signals that don’t suit the situation. After all, a leader doesn’t just sit in a room and boss people around all day — often, they negotiate, persuade, quell troubles and do a whole host of things that require different types of nonverbal communication.


Even leaders need to be approachable sometimes. When you want to encourage employees to come to you with their ideas, you need to demonstrate openness and approachability. Here are ways to fine-tune your body language towards that:

  1. Start with the face. Turn your face towards the person you’re talking to, making sure your attention appears to be on them. Open your eyes wide and offer positive signals, like smiling and nodding during the conversation.
  2. Open palms. Don’t hide your hands, neither keeping it in your pocket nor crossing your arms. Ideally, you’d want your hands turned towards the person with the palms facing upwards.
  3. Feet. Turn your feet so they point directly to the person you’re interacting with. Do this even when you’re sitting behind a desk — the angle your body will end up facing will communicate the same thing even if you feet is obscured from sight.

Authority And Credibility

When negotiating or giving instruction to subordinates, you want to project authority and credibility. Only when you’re able to demonstrate that will you receive the respect leaders deserve. As a default, use these body language techniques, unless the situation asks for something different:

  1. Keep your voice down. If you have a high voice, lower it in general. Get practice using the authoritative arc, where you start speaking in one note, then have your voice rise in pitch through the sentence and end it dropping back down to the original note.
  2. Take lots of space. When standing, pull your shoulders back and hold your legs shoulder-width apart, with your arms hanging by your side. When sitting, throw your arms around the back rest and hold your legs wide, even putting your feet up on the desk in front. Claiming lots of space shows a relaxed confidence in your surroundings because it’s exactly how you’d act in the comfort of your own home.
  3. Show yourself. Don’t hide. Puff your chest out, stand in center, and don’t cover yourself up with any barrier prop, like a cup of coffee held over your chest or a book over your stomach. If you’re sitting behind a desk, lean back to expose your body.
  4. Minimize. Make minimal movements, say the minimum you need to communicate your message and don’t show too much emotion. Do too much and you appear like you’re trying too hard — that’s not the kind of thing a real leader does.
  5. Hold your head high. Keep your head erect and neutral, avoiding tilting it to the side. While head tilting is a good way to show you’re interested, it’s also a universal sign of submission. When you want to project authority and confidence, it’s best to stay away from it.


Sometimes, you need to be able to show empathy as a leader. After all, nobody expects their leaders to be tireless and heartless robots. In fact, showing off a human side keeps you relatable, likely strengthening your connection to the people you lead. How do you accomplish that?

  1. Show emotion. We don’t mean fall to your knees and cry like you’re doing a scene straight out of a tearjerker movie. Instead, be willing to show a little emotion when the situation is right, such as when rallying the troops or inspiring a team.
  2. Listen. When employees come to you with problems, don’t immediately look for solutions. Instead, her them out. Sometimes, the people you work with just need you to listen, rather than figure things out.
  3. Mind your face. A lot of leaders tend to take a serious facial expression and wear it like a mask throughout their day. While that boardroom look serves you well during negotiations and meetings, it can be the same thing that makes employees wary of you. If you’re not exactly sure how to use your facial expressions when you want to be more empathetic, an encouraging smile to start with can go a long way.


One quality almost every good leader has is the ability to persuade people. Whether convincing a potential partner about the merits of investing in the company or rallying his managers to reach the quarter’s target numbers, a good leader knows exactly how to make a strong case to forward his or her agenda. Try these body language techniques on for size.

  1. Mirror. Establish rapport by mirroring your subject. If they’re seated, sit down. If they have their arms crossed, do the same. And so on. Once you’ve established physical rapport this way, you can start leading them on, moving your own body language to one more open and amicable bit by bit.
  2. Be congruent. Make sure your facial expressions and posture match what you’re saying. When persuading, many people look for signs of incongruence — it’s the clearest tell that you don’t fully believe in what you’re saying.
  3. Root yourself. Assume the rooted position, standing straight with your feet shoulder-length apart, like a tree that cannot be fell by a mere push or shove. When doing this, imagine your feet taking root on the ground, making it impossible to get you off balance.