Amy J.C. Cuddy, Matthew Kohut, and John Neffinger
Such leaders face troubles without being troubled. Their behavior is not relaxed, but they are relaxed emotionally. They’re often viewed as “happy warriors,” and the effect of their demeanor on those around them is compelling. Happy warriors reassure us that whatever challenges we may face, things will work out in the end. Ann Richards, the former governor of Texas, played the happy warrior by pairing her assertiveness and authority with a big smile and a quick wit that made it clear she did not let the rough-and-tumble of politics get her down.
During crises, these are the people who are able to keep that influence conduit open and may even expand it. Most people hate uncertainty, but they tolerate it much better when they can look to a leader who they believe has their back and is calm, clearheaded, and courageous. These are the people we trust. These are the people we listen to.
There are physical exercises that can help to summon self-confidence—and even alter your body’s chemistry to be more like that of a happy warrior. Dana Carney, Amy Cuddy, and Andy Yap suggest that people adopt “power poses” associated with dominance and strength across the animal kingdom. These postures are open, expansive, and space-occupying imagine Wonder Woman and Superman standing tall with their hands on their hips and feet spread apart. By adopting these postures for just two minutes prior to social encounters, their research shows, participants significantly increased their testosterone and decreased their cortisol levels.
Bear in mind that the signals we send can be ambiguous—we can see someone’s reaction to our presence, but we may not be sure exactly what the person is reacting to. We may feel a leader’s warmth but remain unsure whether it is directed at us; we sense her strength but need reassurance that it is squarely aimed at the shared challenge we face. And, as we noted earlier, judgments are often made quickly, on the basis of nonverbal cues. Especially when facing a high-pressure situation, it is useful for leaders to go through a brief warm-up routine beforehand to get in the right state of mind, practicing and adopting an attitude that will help them project positive nonverbal signals. We refer to this approach as “inside-out,” in contrast to the “outside-in” strategy of trying to consciously execute specific nonverbal behaviors in the moment. Think of the difference between method acting and classical acting: In method acting, the actor experiences the emotions of the character and naturally produces an authentic performance, whereas in classical acting, actors learn to exercise precise control of their nonverbal signals. Generally speaking, an inside-out approach is more effective.
There are many tactics for projecting warmth and competence, and these can be dialed up or down as needed. Two of us, John Neffinger and Matt Kohut, work with leaders from many walks of life in mastering both nonverbal and verbal cues. Let’s look now at some best practices.How to Project Warmth