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Leadership is about Connecting, Not Dominating

Too often, people in high positions view leadership as a scene from Patton, where the fiery general (George C. Scott) stands in front of an inconceivably huge American flag to fire up his troops before the allied invasion of France.

"Americans love to fight" Patton barks. "All real Americans love the sting and clash of battle."
That style of testosterone leadership works on the battlefield, but not in the boardroom. Just ask Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy, who also happens to be a social psychologist.

"They want to stake out a position and then try to move audiences toward them. That's not effective," she tells Harvard magazine.

Instead, business leaders need to connect with audiences, not establish dominance over them.

Forget projecting high competence, the "I'm the smartest (or toughest) guy in the room" tactic. Instead, when you come into a meeting, "be trusting, connect with the audience wherever they are, and then move them with you."

To come across as warm and competent, she says, engage in "appropriate self-disclosure, the use of humor, and natural smiles," all of which signal warmth. "So do behaviors called 'immediacy cues,' like leaning toward someone, communicating on the same physical plane, and being closer physically, although the ideal distance varies greatly across cultures."

Another tip: don't over exaggerate the importance of words. You can easily wind up sounding like you're reading from a script.

The piece on Cuddy's research, The Psyche on Automatic, is a fascinating glimpse into how body language and stereotypes lead us to snap judgments, and the many ways people react more to what we project than what we say. All good lessons for leaders to learn.

(Photo by Flickr user ThreadedThoughts, CC 2.0)

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