April 2, 2019

Power Posing: Controversial science or great strategy?

Do you stand like a leader?

Many of you may have heard about the concept of Power Posing.  The basic idea is that assuming expansive “power-enhancing” or “power-affirming” poses with our body will actually boost how powerful we feel, how confident we are, and perhaps will enhance our hormones in a way — in real time — that supports our sense of being powerful.

This idea was brought to the scientific literature in this paper and to the forefront of popular culture by Dr. Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist and author of the book, “Presence:  Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges.”  Her TED Talk on the subject was very popular, with over 51 million views.  So what’s the big deal?

Have you ever met someone who clearly has “presence?”  Whose persona simply lights up or takes charge of a room whenever they walk in?  That person understands their power and how to use it.  Conversely, you have probably met people who seem to shrink to the back of the room, seem to lack confidence in themselves and their abilities, and are often overlooked for new assignments or critical leadership roles.  The idea of Power Posing, which Cuddy now calls “postural feedback,” is that you can use particular poses to enhance your visible presence and your internal sense of yourself.  This post provides a great set of images of various power poses, and offers a two-minute strategy for putting this into practice.

I recently had the opportunity to talk to a small group of women leaders at the Exceptional Executive Leadership (ExcEL) for Women program about this topic.  They asked me if I believed in the idea of Power Posing.  My reply was that I think it does make a difference, and the ways to do it are many.  I suggested three ways they could put the ideas into practice.

Going full-on “Wonder-Woman”

One of Cuddy’s suggested poses is the “Wonder Woman” approach (it works for men, too, by the way).  I’ve heard some suggest that before a critical conversation, interview or speech, you should go to the restroom or another private area and stand with your hands on your hips in this pose for at least two minutes, taking in your full power. Taking deep breaths is also an important part of the process. This works for some folks, and requires that you be able to find a private area and not be shy about practicing something that may not come naturally.  Some folks are shy about doing this, even in a private space.  So what other options are there?

Be the mountain

If you know anything about yoga, you likely have heard of the Mountain Pose.  This pose is an open and active way of engaging the whole body that can improve confidence and brings a sense of grounding and stability.  This pose, if you know it well, can be practiced even in a public setting, without others noticing the subtle shift in your stance and posture, while bringing you the full benefits.  And they will notice the confidence and sense of calm it brings you.

Take a deep breath and open your chest

If neither of the above options works, the simple act of taking a deep breath, dropping your shoulders away from your ears and rolling them toward your back can open your chest, bringing an expansiveness to your posture that will help increase your sense of centeredness and convey confidence and a sense of presence to your audience.

These variations on the idea of Power Posing have a few things in common.  They tend to use open and expansive postures to enhance your own sense of power and confidence, and each of them uses the breath to enhance that sense of openness and expansion.  Try each of them and see which one works for you.

Some questions about Cuddy’s original study

There have been some questions from the scientific community about difficulty replicating Cuddy’s work, particularly in the area of these techniques and their influence on hormone levels.  This article and this new scientific paper by Cuddy and her collaborators describe the concerns and offer some new perspectives on these questions.  I would encourage you to review them as well as her original work before forming your own conclusions.

And if you’re looking to learn more about the notion of executive presence and leveraging your own power, please join my community to obtain a FREE copy of my new e-book, Executive Presence: Seven Essays on Approaches to Leadership.

How do you enhance your own sense of presence?

Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Last updated April 2, 2019

Related posts:

5 people who are prone to imposter syndrome and 4 ways to fight it

Executive presence: Recognizing it and growing yours