Leadership Presence And The GOP Debate
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you are hoping to be the next Republican presidential nominee, success
will likely be determined by two very different standards: your past
performance record and your current ability to project that elusive
quality called “leadership presence.” In a televised political debate,
your past performance may be a source of endorsement -- or used as
ammunition by your opponents -- but it is your leadership presence that
is under the most scrutiny by an audience.
shows that, after party affiliation, the most important predictor of
how people vote is their emotional reaction—or gut feeling—toward the
candidate. That’s why leadership presence plays such a key role. Most
of the emotional component of a message is not in what is being said,
but rather in how it is said and how the politician
looks when saying it.
a nonverbal perspective, leadership presence is a mixed set of signals
that convey status, authority and power as well as warmth, empathy, and
friendliness. Leadership presence may be enhanced by signals that make
the speaker appear confident and in control and diminished by negative
body language that conveys arrogance, insincerity, hyper-activity or
low confidence. The latter include frowns, grimaces, whinny voice,
lethargy, wooden or "practiced" gestures, loss of control, stammering,
fillers "ahs" and "ums."
watching the GOP debates last week, I compared notes with Patrick A.
Stewart, Ph.D. from the Department of Political Science in the
University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. In addition to his book Debatable
Humor: Laughing Matters on the 2008 Presidential Primary Campaign,
Stewart has published research on nonverbal communication by
politicians in the journals Presidential Studies Quarterly,
Political Psychology, Motivation and Emotion, International Journal of
Humor Research, and Politics and the Life Sciences.
be checking in with him (and writing about our conversations)
throughout the political debates. Here are few of our initial
signals convey authority, competence, confidence and power. People send
these signals by standing (or being) tall and taking up physical space.
While Donald Turmp’s political answers may have lacked substance, his
wide gestures, pugnacious expression, and blunt delivery sent strong
signals of self-confidence and a sense of dominance.
Jeb Bush’s height (he was the tallest contender) and large head are
also a nonverbal advantage. (The taller candidate has won the popular
vote in 67% of all U.S. presidential elections.)
nonverbal signals of warmth convey empathy, likeability, friendliness,
In happiness/reassurance displays, nonthreatening gestures are combined
with reassuring facial actions such as smiling and raised eyebrows.
So, when John Kasich delivered his message of inclusiveness with a
pleasant facial expression, it helped him come across as authentic and
genuinely nice. And when Christie leaned comfortably on the lectern and
spoke in a relaxed, conversational tone – he also increased his warmth.
is a section of the brain known as Broca’s Area, which is a sort of
filter for sensory input, sifting through everything we see and hear
and read to separate the useful, the pertinent, and the unusual from
the rest of what we can call background noise. In other words, Broca’s
Area looks at all input and lets pass what is familiar and commonplace,
but stops to
is novel or surprising. When something is described as having arrested
our attention, the phrase is more than apt: some piece of input or
information has in fact been detained for questioning.
Marco Rubio surprised me in how well he held my attention - he had what
could be considered an "ineffable" quality - but mainly it was his calm
and collected performance.
When Ben Carson hesitated before answering questions, he captured the
attention of my small “focus group” who viewed the pause as a signal
that he was thoughtfully considering what to say, rather than just
waiting for a chance to deliver a memorized statement.
Problem areas caused by
is established through alignment between what is being said and the
body language that accompanies it. If a speaker’s body language is not
in full agreement with the spoken words, the audience consciously or
subconsciously perceives duplicity, uncertainty or (at the very least)
One of the most telling signs of misalignment that I caught was Jeb
Bush tilting his head to one side (a signal of vulnerability and
deference) when discussing his father and brother and stating “I’m my
own man.” That message needed to be delivered with his head held high
While I thought that Ben Carson was pretty solid, he seemed to “back
away” from the questions by pulling his head back as if in “flight
Although they may not be aware they are doing so, audience members are
also evaluating a candidate’s sincerity by the timing of his or her
gestures. Authentic gestures begin split seconds before the words that
accompany them. They will either precede the word or will be coincident
with the word, but will never come after the word. So when Scott Walker
cupped his hands together, as if making a cradle, while talking about
babies and abortion, he weakened the impact of a potentially powerful
gesture by displaying it after he started speaking, not before.
Another thing that struck me is that while Rand Paul had some great
lines, his mouth control (lip tightener/pressors), his swaying slightly
from side-to-side, and his looking down diminished the authority of his
Adding to that was Paul’s finger pointing, eye rolling, higher volume
and vocal pitch which made him appear to be less in control than
Christie, whom he was confronting.
Leadership presence is not just
relevant for politicians during debates. The underlying principles are
crucial for anyone with aspirations for promotion to senior management
– or for existing executives who wants to increase their influence and
impact. When I coach clients or give seminars on this topic, I always
begin with helping people define their personal brand – based on their
values and the ways in which they want to be perceived. Because
everything else about their leadership presence should reflect this
the debates, Donald Trump’s behaviors worked for him because they were
congruent with his personal brand as an outspoken, brash, and highly
successful businessman. But Stewart also pointed out that Jeb Bush’s
blander, “safer” style (congruent with his personal brand as a
thoughtful and seasoned leader) may have served as an empathetic
counterpoint to Trump.
About the Author
Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D., is an international keynote
speaker, leadership presence coach, and media expert on body language
in the workplace. She is a leadership contributor for Forbes.com and author of
"The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help - or Hurt -
How You Lead.” Email: Carol@CarolKinseyGoman.com,
Phone: 510-526-1727, Website: www.CarolKinseyGoman.com.
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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2015-11-04 09:12:37 in Personal Articles