Personal Leading Measures: How Non-Verbals Give You an Edge


In digital analytics we have a concept called ‘leading measures.’ These are the early cues used to predict behavior. So, for example, a person looking at a product detail page may be leaving an early clue that they plan to buy the product. The same concept applies in business except it is called non-verbal communication. 

Understanding the messages you give and receive non-verbally is critical for all leaders, but especially for executive women. Recent research by TED speaker Amy Cuddy shows, in a quantitative way, that a person’s physical posture and expressions actually shape how they feel, and correspondingly, who they are. If you care about being a leader (regardless of gender) you must watch this TED lecture immediately. It might change your life; it's that good.

One thing Amy touches on is executive presence, or put more simply, physically expanding into the immediate space without crossing the “threatening” line. If you've ever had your boss put his or her hands behind their head, elbows sticking out while talking to you or seen someone put their feet up on the desk, then you've seen this kind of expansion. I do make a point to be aware of my own posture in meetings (even though I rarely put my hands behind my head like that.) I do sit up tall or stand to speak when I can. I also make a point to watch the posture of others – and doing this is without a doubt, business strategy.

Reading non-verbal cues is the next best thing to mind reading. It's like a poker game where combinations of "tells" repeated in clusters give you a clue about intent. Just like leading measures, it's a predictor of behavior. Remember, viewing the product detail page does not mean I will buy the product in the same way that observing non-verbals does not necessarily mean something will happen. So if I see two co-workers feet pointing at each other during the office Christmas party, which is an indicator of romance, it does not mean they are dating. Read more about these tells from Vanessa Van Edwards's great site.

What should you do now armed with this knowledge? Getting a clue early allows you to proactively manage it kindly and appropriately as a powerful female executive. Amy has some follow up research that appeared in the July-Aug 2013 issue of Harvard Business Review about the need to connect first, then lead. Simply put, when we display warmth first, then competence, the result is influence.

Bottom line, as you strive to become the confident, intelligent executive women you know you are, make good use of your personal leading measures to 1) use non-verbal preparations to present yourself well and 2) give yourself a strategic edge by monitoring the non-verbal data from your surroundings.