Women's Leadership Expert and Author Audrey Nelson PhD.

  1. ACCOUNTABILITY
  2. ACCESSIBILITY
  3. ASSERTIVENESS
  4. AGGRESSIVENESS
  5. ANGER
  6. AFFABILITY
  7. AUTHORITY
  8. ACCOMMODATE
  9. AVOID
  10. AFFILIATION
  11. APPROVAL
  12. APOLOGIZING
  13. AMBITION

The 13 A’s to Ax are critical behaviors that impact women’s leadership style. Before a woman can forge a path to leadership, she must conquer these internal roadblocks. The thirteen behaviors are struggles women experience with their attitude and expression of them; that is, their comfort level and familiarity is problematic and does not serve them well as leaders.

For example, one of the A’s is affability. Women not only compulsively smile more than men, but they smile at the wrong time, which can jeopardize their credibility by sending mixed messages—a contradiction between verbal and nonverbal messages. People don’t know which one to believe. Often a woman will smile when she is making a serious point or engaged in conflict as if to mitigate the situation, to soften the blow. So, I am not saying women should stop smiling altogether, but they need to consider the context and the message. We all like to work with happy people, but we are confused by contradictory messages.

Approval and Affiliation

Another example is approval and affiliation. We are social animals and have a hard-wired need for approval and inclusion in the group. For women, it is paramount that they are liked; men often gauge their prowess by not necessarily always being liked and approved of by others—sometimes a “macho” factor. This is best represented by a remark I heard a middle manager make: “Somebody has to do the dirty work and call out this bad solution and if it means I am not going to be liked, so be it.” Women face the task of monitoring what they sacrifice: their opinions and ideas for the sake of approval.

Approval and affiliation can bring down a teen girl and a senior executive equally.  Friendships are important to women, and they learn young the prerequisite of liking other children in order to play with them; fast forward to a managerial level: Women feel an immense loyalty to their colleagues. It is common for women to refuse to transfer to another department because of the bond they have with existing peers.

In a recent consolidation of research on women in the workplace for the last three decades, Gallop produced a report, Women: Work and Life Well-Lived. The report identifies the “friendship factor.” For women, work not only provides a steady paycheck but also a sense of purpose and an important social outlet; sixty-six percent of women say the social aspect of a job is a “major reason” why they work. Because a woman has a deep sense of affiliation with her team members, it benefits the organization, as well. In other words, her ability to form strong relationships relates to better business outcomes, including profitability, safety, and most importantly, customers’ emotional connection and loyalty to the business. One of the most important realizations women have to learn is how to maintain the positive qualities and attributes of affiliation without compromising their ability to express a conflicting opinion.

New Rules and Realities

There are new rules and realities for leadership in the workplace. Men and women are not the same and have different approaches to how they lead. In order for women to share their work lives as equals, they must learn to tackle simple behaviors governed by internal thought patterns. A woman cannot always control the external environment, what people think or organizational constraints, but she does have control over her internal attitudes and predispositions; she can change the way she thinks and then the way she behaves.

There are many lessons girls have learned from playing cooperatively rather than forming hierarchical groups. Girls generally prefer a flat organization and the premium is on getting along with others and learning how to smooth things over and negotiate to save and preserve relationships. Girls will typically choose reciprocity and intimacy in playing games. These lessons have served women well in developing interpersonal competence, emotional intelligence, enhanced social skills, and the ability to sustain relationships. However, the paradox of interpersonal skill and acquiescence is a tightrope women must walk. It functions as a part of the micro-political structure that undergirds the larger political structure of the workplace. For the larger political context to exist and carry on, there are many actions and interactions that take place during the workday to support it and maintain it.

The 13 A’s to Ax are interrelated issues women have with behaviors that serve to perpetuate the disparities in men and women’s attitudes toward leadership and the willingness of others to follow women. When a woman pursues leadership, whether it is an entry-level leadership position or if she is already in a mid-level management or director position, she becomes frustrated, bewildered, and confused. She begins to mistrust her judgment. She is experiencing a backlash to her leadership style.

Finally, these 13 A’s serve to maintain and convey signals of compliance, control, and dependence that influence us and those around us. Conquering the challenges a woman has with The 13 A’s to Ax will enable her to not only join the ranks of male leadership, but to also surpass it.

leadership body language with Carol Kinsey Goman

He’s the boss, she’s bossy. He’s assertive, she’s domineering. He strategizes, she schemes.

He’s powerful and likeable, she’s powerful or likeable.

As males rise in rank and status at work, they retain (and often increase) their perceived likeability – so they can be both powerful and likeable. The Double-Bind Paradox states that women must project authority in order to advance in the business world, but the more powerful they appear, the less they are liked. Catalyst, an organization that studies women in leadership, calls this the “dammed if you do, doomed if don’t” dilemma. Their research shows that women in power can be seen as capable or likeable — but rarely both.

Blame it on the stereotypes we hold of women as nurturing, sensitive and collaborative, When their behavior is congruent with these traits, women are liked, although not seen as especially powerful. When their behavior runs counter to the stereotype, they are perceived more negatively. A frequently cited Harvard Business School study, the Heidi/Howard case, shows that when the same highly assertive and successful leader is described to grad students (of both genders), that person is seen as far more appealing when given a male name instead of a female one.

Does that mean that female leaders are indeed “dammed or doomed” as Catalyst suggested? Well, maybe not.

One encouraging possibility that addresses this bias comes from another study at Stanford Graduate School of Business that found businesswomen who are assertive and confident, but who can turn these traits on and off depending on the social circumstances, get more promotions than either men or other women. This research suggests the most successful women have developed a strategic ability to read a situation and alter their behavior accordingly.

Here’s where body language comes in.

When working with a leader, followers continuously and unconsciously assess her nonverbal signals for warmth (empathy, likeability, caring) and authority (power, credibility, status). So knowing how your body language cues are most likely to be perceived can be the first step to being able to move successfully from making one impression to the other.

Take head positions, for example. Head tilting is a signal that someone is listening and involved — and a particularly feminine gesture. As such, head tilts can be very empathetic and warm, but they are also subconsciously processed as submission signals. (Dogs tilt their heads to expose their necks, as a way to show deference to the dominant animal.) Remember to use head tilts when you want to demonstrate your concern for and interest in members of your team or when you want to encourage people to expand on what they are saying. But when you need to project power and confidence — when asking for a job promotion or giving a presentation to senior management — keep your head straight up in a more neutral (and authoritative) position.

Then there is the matter of posture. Status and authority are nonverbally demonstrated through claiming height and space. Watch the high-status males in your organization. They almost always expand into available space and take up room. So, when you want to project status, remember to stand tall, pull your shoulders back, widen your stance, and hold your head held high. On the other hand, when you want to display empathy or increase collaboration, you’ll also want to minimize your power signals, and replace them with warmer ones — forward leans, head nods, and aligned shoulders, torso, legs pointed toward whomever is speaking.

Gestures Send a Message

Gestures, too, send their own messages, and by paying attention, you can make sure they are sending the right message. Since early history, people showed their palms to one another to display the fact that they were unarmed – and therefore friendly. Open arms with palms showing indicate candor and inclusiveness, so they are very effective when you want to proclaim your sincerity or build trust in a group. Projecting confidence and certainty is achieved by “steepling” (finger tips touching, palms separated) or rotating your hands palms-down. Both gestures indicate that you are absolutely sure of your position. (Just watch that you don’t overuse them and weaken the impact.)

It’s a similar issue with physical animation. When you want to pull people into a discussion, stay animated in your facial expressions and use your hands as illustrators to make what you are describing more vivid. But when you want to maximize your authority, maintain more of a “poker face” and minimize your gestures by keeping them smaller and displaying most of them at waist height.

The obvious implication of the Stanford research for women who want to advance in their organizations is to master the ability to display competence and power when the situation requires it, and to signal warmth and empathy when it is most effective to do so. That’s how body language can help you defeat the Double-Bind Paradox.

Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D., is the president of Kinsey Consulting Services. She’s an international keynote speaker and an authority on the impact of body language on leadership effectiveness, and her passion is helping talented women build their leadership presence. Carol’s clients include over 200 organizations in 25 countries. Her programs for women leaders have been presented at events including European Women in Technology, Amazon, Women@Google, Expedia – Global Women’s Conference, Executive Women’s Forum, Stanford University, and UNC School of Government – Engaging Women in Public Service.

Carol is a leadership blogger for Forbes and the author of twelve business books including The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help – or Hurt – How You Lead. She has been cited as an authority in media such as Industry Week, Investors’ Business Daily, CNN’s Business Unusual, PBS Marketplace, the Washington Post’s On Leadership column, MarketWatch radio, and the NBC Nightly News.

Dr. Carol Kinsey Goman is presenting two programs for IMS in November in Los Angeles and Kansas City. Sign up to experience these highly interactive sessions.

leadership body language with Carol Kinsey Goman

I have been speaking on the topic of leadership presence for several years, but only lately created a program designed for women – and the question I get most often is, “Why focus on women?” My answer is, as they say in the commercial, “Because we’re worth it!”

We’re highly educated. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, women make up more than 56% of college students nationwide.

We increase innovation. An economist from Carnegie Mellon found that teams that included at least one female member had a collectively higher IQ than teams that had just men.

We make organizations more profitable. The Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology, recently published a paper called The Case for Investing in Women detailing the huge difference that women make in the workforce. One of their findings is that in Fortune 500 companies with at least three female directors, the return on invested capital jumped over 66%, return on sales went up 42%, and return on equity increased by 53%.

But here’s the rub. Leadership presence doesn’t automatically come with your education, your talent for innovation, or your business results. Instead, leadership presence is entirely subjective. It depends on how others perceive you. And it’s different for women who face external challenges when it comes to being perceived as leaders.

One of the most pervasive obstacles is Unconscious Bias. Few people would consciously think that a woman can’t be a leader. But Unconscious Bias appears in numerous studies. For example, when researchers ask both men and women to draw a picture of a leader, they’ll almost always draw a male figure.

Women also face unique internal challenges. The Impostor Syndrome is the fear of being exposed as a fraud, of feeling unworthy of your success. While both genders experience it, a female’s self-doubt is more likely to negatively impact her career when she doesn’t exhibit the self-confidence expected in a leader. For example, internal research by Hewlett-Packard found that women only apply for jobs for which they feel they are a 100% match; men apply even when they meet no more than 60% of the requirements.

To complicate matters further, women fall into verbal and nonverbal communication traps that rob them of presence. Here are three of those traps:

Trap #1 – Sending nonverbal submission signals

Sometimes it’s as simple as the tilt of your head. Tilting your head to one side is a warm (“pro-social”) signal that you are listening and involved. As such, head tilts can be very empathetic and inclusive. But they are also subconsciously processed as submission signals. (Dogs tilt their heads to expose their necks, as a way to show deference to the dominant animal.)

Continue using head tilts when you want to demonstrate your concern for and interest in members of your team or when you want to encourage people to expand on what they are saying. But when you need to project power and confidence — asking for a promotion or giving a presentation to the executive team or board of directors — keep your head straight up in a more neutral (and authoritative) position.

Trap #2 – Looking less than you are

Here’s how most women sit around a conference table in a business meeting: Legs are crossed, elbows into waist, hands together on lap, shoulders slightly rounded. In other words, women condense their bodies. If you find yourself in this posture, realize that it could be depleting your leadership presence by making you look less confident, less professional, and less powerful than you really are.

Confidence and authority are nonverbally demonstrated through claiming height and space. If you are sitting, you can still project power by sitting straight with both feet on the floor (which makes you look and feel “grounded”), by hooking one arm over the back of your chair, by making more open arm gestures, or by spreading out your belongings on the conference table to claim more territory.

Remember, also, that if everyone is seated, standing when you speak gives you instant status by becoming — for the moment – the tallest person in the room. And if you move around, the additional space you take up adds to that impression.

Trap #3 – Staying invisible

The head of Human Resources told me that the saddest comment he hears when executives are evaluating potential candidates for high-level positions is, “I have no idea who she is.” I think this happens with female candidates because we are more likely to adopt a “good student” mentality – in which we believe that if we just keep our heads down and do good work, that others are bound to notice and reward us.

Apparently, that’s not the case.

Research with senior leaders in Silicon Valley found that the top criterion for promotion was visibility. One savvy female executive stated it this way: “It’s not enough to be a legend in your own mind. You need to make others aware of your talents and accomplishments.”

Are the executives in your company aware of your talents and accomplishments? If not, you need to increase your visibility by volunteering for key projects, offering to give presentations, publicizing your team’s accomplishments, and taking an active part in your professional associations. You need to broaden and deepen your network and look for mentors and sponsors who will guide and help promote you. Because as gifted as you may be, your leadership presence can only be built by getting out there and letting others see you in action. 

Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D., is the president of Kinsey Consulting Services. She’s an international keynote speaker and an authority on the impact of body language on leadership effectiveness, and her passion is helping talented women build their leadership presence. Carol’s clients include over 200 organizations in 25 countries. Her programs for women leaders have been presented at events including European Women in Technology, Amazon, Women@Google, Expedia – Global Women’s Conference, Executive Women’s Forum, Stanford University, and UNC School of Government – Engaging Women in Public Service.

Carol is a leadership blogger for Forbes and the author of twelve business books including The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help – or Hurt – How You Lead. She has been cited as an authority in media such as Industry Week, Investors’ Business Daily, CNN’s Business Unusual, PBS Marketplace, the Washington Post’s On Leadership column, MarketWatch radio, and the NBC Nightly News.