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Body Language Mistakes that Male Leaders Make.
Carol Kinsey Goman
Monday, 2nd July 2012
 
There are two sets of body language cues that followers look for in their leaders: power/status/authority and warmth/empathy/likeability.

Power and status are non-verbally displayed in height and space. Men are taller and tend to expand into space (an example would be leaning back with hands behind head, elbows wide and legs loosely crossed in a "four" shape — a predominately male posture).

So, before uttering a word, male leaders already have the advantage over their female counterparts in projecting power and authority. That's a strength. But, like any strength, when overused or inappropriately used, it can become a liability.

Power signals make male executives look like leaders. Or at least they did in a hierarchical, command and control setting. But when it comes to leading collaborative teams and building high trust work environments, those same behaviors can undermine a leader's efforts. After all, if you act like "the boss who has all the answers," why would anyone else need – or dare – to contribute?

Adapted from "The Silent Language of Leaders: How Your ‘Body Language Can help – or – Hurt How You Lead," here are the five body language mistakes that male leaders often make, and tips on how to avoid them:

1. They keep a "poker face."

A male leader's ability to hold his emotions in check is viewed as an advantage in business negotiations. But that doesn't mean that men shouldn't allow their feelings to show in other professional situations.

Tip: Whether you are promoting collaboration, building employee enthusiasm for a new corporate direction, or addressing the negative consequences of a major change, showing emotion is not only a good thing – it is a powerful leadership strategy.

2. They don't listen.

Or more specifically, they don't look like they are listening. As a leader, the amount of eye contact you give is especially telling if you reserve it only for those whose opinion you agree with. Men are comfortable talking side-by-side, but women prefer face-to-face (eye-to-eye) encounters. In fact, women often cite a lack of eye contact as evidence that their male boss "doesn't value my input."

Tip: Increasing your eye contact (and, most especially, making sure you are not just looking at some members of your team and ignoring others) will send signals of inclusiveness and warmth.

3. They lack empathy.

Well, not exactly. While another person's emotional pain activates mirror neurons (the "empathy" neurons) in both genders, a second system (the temporal-parietal junction, or TPJ) quickly takes over in the male brain. The TPJ in turn activates their "analyze-and-fix-it" circuits and leads men to immediately search for solutions, rather than understanding that sometimes people just need to be heard.

Tip: The next time someone comes to you with an emotional problem, try being an empathetic sounding board rather than an executive problem solver

4. They infringe on other people's territory.

Highly confident and powerful men typically occupy greater personal space, which may result in their infringing on another person's territory. Space invasions are better tolerated when the invader is attractive or of high status. But people's territorial responses are primitive and powerful.

When someone uninvited comes too close, it automatically triggers an increase in the heart rate and galvanic skin response (sweat gland activity and changes in the sympathetic nervous system) of the invadee.

Tip: You can tell if you have infringed on people's space by the way they react – stepping away, withdrawing their head or neck, angling their shoulders away, or placing an object (laptop, purse, coffee cup) between the two of you. And when you notice any of these signs, back off!

5. They look intimidating.

Many male leaders need to monitor their facial expressions, especially those that come across as intimidating, overpowering, or deliberately forbidding. Such visual power cues are certainly useful in some situations. But just as certainly not useful in others. The problem is, hard looks can become habitual in all your business dealings without your actual realizing it. You're the boss, so you scowl – period.

Tip: Once you've become aware of how you come across to others, you can begin to modify your facial expressions to suit the situation. An encouraging smile, for example, can go a long way if your goal is to energize your team and stimulate dialogue. You'll still be the boss even if you do warm up a bit. And when you do, you may be surprised to find your team responding with more positive contributions than you'd expected.

This article has also appeared at Forbes.com

Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D., is a leadership communication coach, author and keynote speaker who addresses association, government, and business audiences around the world. Her latest book is "THE SILENT LANGUAGE OF LEADERS: How Body Language Can Help – or Hurt – How You Lead." 

For more information, contact Carol by phone: 510-526-1727, email: CGoman@CKG.com, or through her websites: www.CKG.com
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