Have you ever noticed that some individuals seem to “own the room” the moment they enter it? Even before he says something, even if nobody knows her, the room goes quiet. Everyone immediately senses “this is the leader.”
Conventional wisdom says that if you “dress for success” you’ll have more confidence and other people will sense that. However, if all that’s giving you confident is your suit, you’ll come off like a wimp who spends too much money on your wardrobe.
It’s how you behave around others, not clothing, that makes people sense you’re the leader, according to Deborah H. Gruenfeld of Stanford University, whose work was recently cited in the New York Times.
Based on that article, here are her suggestions, preceded by two of my own:
1. Own your appearance.
Regardless of what you’re wearing, wear it with conviction. Never apologize for being dressed too formally or informally. Treat it the other way around; everyone else is off base because they’re not dressed like you.
2. Visualize the room as your personal space.
Even if you’ve never been in that room before, imagine it as your private office. This is your table, these are your chairs, this is your window. In other words, convince yourself that you “own the room” in a literal sense.
3. Consider everyone else your audience.
By audience, I don’t mean like the audience of a movie. I mean like everyone else is “having an audience” with royalty, which would be you. Everyone is there “by your pleasure” as they used to say.
4. Keep your arms away from your body.
Great leaders are relaxed because they know they’re in control of the situation and thus don't need to feel tense. Express that fact that you’re at ease with your power by keeping your posture open and making broad gestures.
5. Speak succinctly and don’t over-explain yourself.
When you make a point, use short crisp sentences. Don’t start blathering about background, your detailed reasoning, your thought process, other alternatives. Great leaders are never motormouths.
6. Maintain eye contact until the other looks away.
When you speak, engage the person to whom you’re speaking by making and maintaining eye contact. Maintain eye contact until the other person looks away; then look away yourself. This establishes you as the Alpha Dog.
As I think of the techniques above, I’m reminded of one particular industry analyst, Jonathan Seybold, who managed to seem like he was leader, even in a room full of billionaires.