Most leaders in everyday walks of life have a higher understanding of their role as a leader and the different ways that they can influence those around them. It may be through delegating a specific task to an individual and trusting them to get it done without watching their every step. It may be through encouraging someone to share their thoughts in a meeting or by saying something that inspires them to move in the right direction. These forms of influential leadership are easy to identify and to be intentional about when it comes to executing them.
Now, have you ever thought about the forms of leadership that you may not be as mindful of that may be affecting your ability and credibility as a leader? Often times it is the things we do unintentionally that affect us the most and have the most consequences.
I recently had the opportunity to speak to a group of Athletic Directors at the Kansas Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association conference and the topic that I was asked to speak on was accidental leadership. For many days I thought about how I would craft a message that would really drive the point home. The more I analyzed my message, the more I began to think of the many experiences where someone had an impact on me without them ever realizing it. I discussed several different factors that day and I would like to share one of the accidental leadership traits that played a major role in my life whether it was a coach, a parent, a colleague, or a role model.
Body language and Presence
Dr. Albert Mehrabian, author of Silent Messages, conducted several studies on nonverbal communication. He found that 7% of any message is conveyed through words, 38% through certain vocal elements, and 55% through nonverbal elements (facial expressions, gestures, posture, etc.). That means 93% of our communication is nonverbal. My question to you is, are you mindful about your body language and your overall presence? I’m sure we can all think of someone who has addressed us with horrible body language. It may be the individual who gives us a fake smile, soft handshake, and then wipes their hand on their pants after the handshake. It may be the person who stares down at their phone while in mid-conversation with you (I am guilty of this).
The same is true when it comes to presence. There are some people who walk into a room and bring positive energy, while there are others who suck the life out of it leaving everyone around them feeling emotionally drained. As a leader you must be mindful of the body language and the energy you bring. This is not only when you are with your workmates, but the body language and presence you have with those outside of your professional life.
One of the greatest examples of accidental leadership through body language and presence throughout my career was from my head football coach in college, Coach Mark Richt. There were many times that he spoke about his faith, being a man of character, and loving his family. This was especially true during the recruiting process. As much as I admired his words, I learned most by watching the way he interacted with people who weren’t wearing a jersey. There are some people who treat others a certain way depending on the rank or status they believe that person holds in their life. If it’s a boss, a colleague, or someone they are trying to do business with then they will do all the right things when in their presence. If it is someone they feel is below them then they could care less about their body language and how they come off.
One thing I respected about Coach Richt is that his words were consistent with his actions in terms of his body language and presence. Especially when it came to his family and those outside of the program. I watched the way he interacted with his children. I had the opportunity to witness his body language when he was around his wife. I saw the way he gave his attention to absolute strangers making them feel as if they were the most important people in the room. For a man in his position to demonstrate that you can be approachable and acknowledge people who may have positions of less influence was powerful. For some of my teammates who came to the University of Georgia that were from single parent homes, they were able to see first-hand what it looked like for a man in a high ranking position to care about his family and those around him. This form of accidental leadership still impacts me till this day now that I am a father.
Another area where this same concept can be applied is when dealing with adversity. As we all know, it is much easier to be a great leader when things are going well and everyone is getting along. As a leader you must ask yourself how you respond when adversity hits. What is your body language like during and after you’ve had a disagreement with someone? What is it like to be around you when your back is against the wall? You must understand that as a leader your presence alone can set the tone for your family, your team, and your entire organization. You may not think that your bad attitude or facial expression can impact those around you, but I guarantee you that it does. The body language and presence you have when dealing with conflict can have a negative impact on how you are viewed by everyone else around you without you ever realizing it. True character is revealed in times of adversity. One of the ways you can lose credibility as a leader is by preaching that you hold certain values and then turning into a completely different person when tough times hit. You must never allow circumstances or someone else’s actions to cause you to compromise who you are.
As leaders we must remember that the normal everyday things that a person does will be seen in a different light when we do it because of the position of influence that we are in. This is a lesson I have had to learn over the years. We must have awareness of our body language, our presence, and how it affects those directly and indirectly connected to us. By taking the time to think, respond, and not just react you will have the opportunity to make a powerful impact on everyone around you.