Power Posture Brings Power to the Leader — But Inhibits the Contribution of the Follower

Have you ever thought about how your posture affects you and the people around you? In 2012, a social psychologist, Amy Cuddy, impressed the world with her findings on power posing. Simply keeping a power posture, that is, posing like a superhero for a couple of minutes empowers you[1]. You feel more capable and powerful for the things happening next. In short, your body fools your mind.

The feeling of power not only changes your cognition but also shapes your behaviors. Research found that expansive postures, such as placing one’s arms on the back of the chairs and crossing one’s legs, such that the ankle of one leg positioned on the thigh of the other leg, effectively induces people’s senses of power and risk-taking actions (calling for cards when playing blackjack)[2]. So far, we know that body postures to certain extent determine what we do.

But are you the only person confused by your body language? Of course not. Researchers examined how power postures influence the interactions between a leader and a follower. A number of college students were recruited to a psychology experiment and had had no idea of the purpose of experiment before checking in. After the check-in, students were randomly assigned to either a role of leader or follower. A leader and a follower were randomly paired and asked to jointly coming up with a decision related to an assigned question. Half of the assigned leaders were instructed to keep frequent eye contact with the follower, maintain upright posture and use dynamic gestures, known as “powerful demeanor.” Followers paired with powerful demeaning leaders spoke less during the discussions and were more likely to defer to the leaders’ decisions because the followers thought the leaders were competent to make the best decision[3]. This finding aligns with previous studies that less powerful people are more attuned to social cues (body language) and will adjust their behaviors (withdraw from discussion) accordingly.

Body language tells a lot about who you are, what you are thinking and unconsciously affects you and the people around you. Next time, when you feel like acting as the toughest boss, be aware of the consequences of posing like one. It may come with a price that the other people in the room are less engaged.


[1] Cuddy, Amy. “Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are.” TED: Ideas Worth Spreading, www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are.

[2] Huang, L., Galinsky, A. D., Gruenfeld, D. H., & Guillory, L. E. (2011). Powerful postures versus powerful roles: Which is the proximate correlate of thought and behavior?. Psychological Science, 22(1), 95-102.

[3] Locke, C. C., & Anderson, C. (2010, August). The downside of looking like a leader: leaders' powerful demeanor stifles follower voice in participative decision-making. In Academy of Management Proceedings (Vol. 2010, No. 1, pp. 1-6). Briarcliff Manor, NY 10510: Academy of Management.

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