There are times when—as a leader—high-level confidence is not just required, but it is pivotal to success. Regardless of how long you have been in a position of leadership, there are times when that level of confidence that you so desperately crave seems to elude you, just when you need it the most. We have all been there.
The good news is that the latest research reveals that confidence is simply one ‘power pose’ away.
If you have not visited TED.com, I highly recommend it as an ongoing resource for leaders. One of the most highly viewed videos on this site features Amy Cuddy, a Social Psychologist from Harvard Business School who presents on the topic of body language.
Her research highlights that when humans stand in a particular way (power pose), this can instantly increase their confidence and decrease anxiety. Ultimately she is saying that our physiology impacts upon our psychology.
Don’t believe me? Then try this:
Imagine I am in a room with you, and that I place a screen between you and a person sitting opposite you; so, you can’t see this person at all. Now, I tell you the person behind the screen is depressed. How do you imagine that person is sitting? Most people respond to this question with: head down, slouched forward, slumped shoulders, and a frown on their face. Ask yourself, how do we know that? The answer is simple really—it is the way we would sit if we were in the same state. Now imagine if I told you that the person is highly confident and ready to take on the world. How do you envisage they are sitting/standing?
After seeing Amy Cuddy’s video I started to seek evidence from my work and private life that validated her theories. The thing I was most surprised by was how much evidence I found. I recalled some of the leaders that I both work with and highly respect, and immediately their power poses jumped to my mind. I thought about how they prepare themselves for special presentations and meetings: one particular leader spends time alone before important speeches, rehearsing while standing tall and staring at the ceiling. Another takes a deep breath, stands tall and looks up before heading out on stage.
Then there is me. I reflected back to one of the toughest speeches I will ever have to give—my father’s eulogy. I am a professional speaker, so I put a lot of pressure on myself for his tribute to be perfect. Not surprisingly however, when I gave the eulogy, waves of emotion kept interrupting. As I looked back on that day, I remembered instinctively looking up, pushing my shoulders back and standing tall each time a wave of emotion crashed over me. This strategy—using physiology to overcome psychology—was the only way I got through the most important presentation I will ever make.
Little did I know that I was doing my version of Amy Cuddy’s, power poses.
Leaders that are self-aware of their responses to stressful situations, and then have the ability to manage their emotions by changing their physiology and mindset, become incredibly powerful. They have the ability to place themselves in the perfect emotional state for all situations.
So next time you find yourself in a situation where you are nervous, afraid or simply stressed, check in with how you are holding yourself and make changes to enhance your emotional state.