Signals Used to Communicate Leadership Status
People constantly send sIgnals or "markers" to others about our mutual status. According to interesting research by Peterson et al., these leadership or dominance or social signals fall into 2 categories:
- POWER / POWERFUL: Expressions of confidence, competence, charisma, and influence but also arrogance, abrasiveness, and intimidation.
- ATTRACTIVENESS / ATTRACTIVE: Expressions of agreeableness, approachability, likability but also diffidence (~timidity), lack of confidence, and submissiveness.
These social markers can be expressed 1. verbally (language, wording, volume, pronounciation, etc.), 2. using nonverbal communication (eye contact, body language), or 3. through context setting (wearing a suit, receiving someone in an impressive office).
Default Leadership Markers
People have a particular set of markers that they default to in neutral situation. This can be called our natural style.
People will behave more powerfully relative to their natural style towards another person if they feel they are more senior, more educated, more experienced.
People will behave more attractively relative to their natural style when they feel more junior or less experienced.
Besides the context, the interpretation of various "style markers" also varies by culture.
Example Markers / Signals
Here are some examples. The first mentioned in the list is used to communicate a powerful status, the second one to communicate an attractive status.
- Behave formally / informally
- Behave detached / empathetic
- Be close to / far away from the other person
- Take no notes / lots of notes
- Lean backward / forward
- Eye contact when speaking / when listening
- Controlled / natural gestures
- Long / short speeches
- Speak fast / slowly
- Speak loud / soft
- Use a lot of I, me, my / we, our
Adjusting your Markers Consciously and Dynamically
Interestingly, it is possible to apply these markers consciously and dynamically, depending on the circumstances and your preferences in that situation. This allows you to adjust the impression you will make on other persons.
For example, if you frequently receive feedback
that "you're not senior enough", you are probably to attractive and you should use some more powerful markers, like serious expressions, speaking more formal, or talking a bit louder while making eye contact. And if you frequently get feedback like "your team is afraid of you", you are perceived as overly powerful and you might use some more attractive social markers, like happy expressions, listening more and asking questions
while acting more informal.
⇨ Do you sometimes adjust the leadership status signals / markers you show towards others consciously? How?
Source: Suzanne J. Peterson, Robin Abramson and R.K. Stutman, " How to Develop your Leadership Style: Concrete Advice for a Squishy Challenge", HBR Nov-Dec 2020, pp.69-77