Impactful Leadership: Building Self-Awareness

Can an effective leader be developed or must they be born with the leadership instinct?  There is research that supports both positions; however, based on my experience as a leadership coach, I believe leadership skills can be developed in people.

The Case for Understanding Nonverbal Communication

Great leaders continue to grow through self-awareness. When we do team training, there is usually a self-awareness component which includes DiSC assessments. One of the things we love about DiSC is that it builds awareness of self and others with supportive examples of how body language, tone and vocabulary are key ingredients to communication. A Listening study by Geocities had 3 intriguing findings when you consider how they could impact your personal brand in the workplace:

  • Only 7% of meaning is in the words that are spoken
  • 93% of a person’s communication effectiveness is determined by nonverbal cues
  • The average person speaks 16,000 words daily

According to Amy Cuddy’s June 2012 Ted Talk, body language (nonverbal) shapes how you see yourself as much as it impacts how others see you. Her research suggests that we can actually increase our confidence and lower our stress level just by striking a power pose (like Wonder Woman or arms stretched out like you just won a race) 2 minutes before an interview, presentation or meeting. Cuddy’s research further supports that body language leads to judgments: who we hire, who we ask out, who we vote for, etc.

Managing Our Blind Spots

During a recent team training engagement, one of the participants (let’s call him Tom) seemed totally disengaged and my colleague and I took note of this early in the session. It was quite distracting because Tom was the only unengaged participant out of a fairly large group. He had a very uninterested expression on his face, didn’t smile at all and was not communicative. Correction, he was very communicative, but only in a nonverbal way. Tom’s facial expressions, body language and posture told everyone that he didn’t want to be bothered. In fact it told us that Tom wasn’t interested in conversation and that he would prefer to be left alone. 

Contrary to what we thought, Tom told us that he actually wanted to engage and gets frustrated with how difficult it is to attract conversation. Tom didn’t realize that he was creating the exact opposite of what he wanted because of his body language. Well, later in the workshop an amazing thing happened shortly after the self-awareness portion of our presentation; my co-facilitator and I could see the light bulb go on for Tom. He got it! He understood his contribution to how others viewed him and how they reacted to him as well. He committed to becoming more self-aware.

Are Leaders Born or Made?

On another occasion, I shared Amy Cuddy’s research with an executive I coached who was experiencing a challenge with her team and peers viewing her as a leader. She had a softer, laid-back demeanor that few would associate with an impactful leader, and most of her team was male. If you are familiar with DiSC, my client was a C (conscientious). We agreed that for the next 2-3 weeks during her interactions with her team/peers, she would consistently incorporate power posing and see if she noticed a difference in how they responded to her. She called me in 2 weeks and said she couldn’t believe what a difference it had made. What I found to be most interesting is the change in how she saw herself. She said she felt more powerful and confident – all through building self-awareness.

Although you may think that we would have a tendency to mirror a person’s nonverbal stance, Amy Cuddy’s research indicates that by nature we tend to compliment the other persons’ nonverbal cues with opposing behavior. So, when a leader is more passive, he/she attracts assertiveness or more aggressive behaviors from others. This supports exactly what took place with my client; she felt empowered and was viewed as more powerful.

Building self-awareness can make a huge difference with your ability to manage relationships in a manner that’s beneficial to your desired outcomes. Remember, only 7% of the time is our message clearly delivered through verbal communication.

How self-aware are you? What messages are you sending with your body language? What is your nonverbal communication saying to others?