NON VERBAL BEHAVIOR 1
The Role of Nonverbal Behavior in Leadership: An Integrative Review
Claremont McKenna College
Marianne Schmid Mast
University of Neuchatel, Switzerland
Annick Darioly, Kravis Leadership Institute, Claremont McKenna College,
Claremont, California, United States; Marianne Schmid Mast, Department of Work and
Organizational Psychology, University of Neuchatel, Neuchatel, Switzerland. Annick
Darioly is currently at the Department of Work and Organizational Psychology, University
of Neuchatel, Neuchatel, Switzerland.
We thank Claudia Raigoza and Petra Schmid for comments on previous drafts of the
Correspondence concerning this chapter should be addressed to Annick Darioly,
Department of Work and Organizational Psychology, University of Neuchatel, Rue Emile-
Argand 11, CH-2000 Neuchatel, phone: +41 32 718 1390, fax: + 41 32 718 1391
Chapter proposed for Riggio, R. E., & Tan, S.. Understanding and Assessing Soft Leader
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The Role of Nonverbal Behavior for Leadership: An Integrative Review
One of the main activities of leaders is interacting with others (e.g., Yukl, 2010).
Their interactions with followers, colleagues, or business partners happen through verbal
and nonverbal behavior. In this chapter, we focus on leader nonverbal behavior (NVB).
NVB plays an important role in interpersonal communication in general and accounts for a
majority (about 65 to 90%) of the meaning conveyed in social interactions (e.g., Crane &
NVB refers to any behavior other than speech content. However, the distinction
between verbal and nonverbal behavior is not always clear. For example, “emblems,” such
as nonverbal gestures like the “okay” made with the thumb and forefinger, or the “thumbs
up” gesture, have a distinct verbal meaning. But most nonverbal cues are subject to
interpretation. A distinction between speech-related NVB and speech-unrelated NVB can
be helpful (Knapp & Hall, 2010). Speech-related NVB encompasses, for instance, tone of
voice, speech modulation, and speech duration. Examples of speech-unrelated NVB include
eye gaze, facial expressions, body movements, posture, touch, smell, mode of dress, and
walking style (Knapp & Hall, 2010). Whether verbal or nonverbal behavior matters more as
a source of information depends on the situation. In an equivocal situation, NVB is often
referred to as a source of information. The more a situation is equivocal, the more
important NVB is. People often turn to NVB for information when the NVB contradicts the
verbal communication or when individuals doubt the honesty of a verbal communication
(e.g., Mehrabian, 1972).
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NVB is important for successful social interactions. Its functions include revealing
personality characteristics, signaling interpersonal orientations (dominance, friendliness), or
expressing emotions (Knapp & Hall, 2010). When strangers meet for the first time, the
impression they form about each other is mostly based on verbal and nonverbal cues (e.g.,
Ambady, Hallahan, & Rosenthal, 1995; Costanzo & Archer, 1989; Hyde, 2005). Regardless
of whether the formed impressions are correct or not, they affect what one thinks about the
social interaction partners and how one behaves toward them. In sum, interaction partners
express their states and traits – not only but also – through NVB, consciously or
unconsciously, and they use NVB to form impressions about others (Mehrabian & Wiener,
1967). This process can be illustrated with the Brunswikian lens model (Brunswik, 1956)
(Figure 1). Two perspectives are present in the model. On the one hand, the model depicts
the perceiver who observes the target’s NVB and interprets it. The perceiver forms an
impression about the target, for example, regarding the target’s personality, based on the
target’s NVB. On the other hand, the model depicts the target and how he or she expresses
him or herself in NVB. The Brunswikian lens model (Brunswik, 1956) has been used
extensively to explain accuracy in social perception in different situations, including the
leadership context. To illustrate, in a business meeting, on the one hand a new employee
typically observes the NVB of the individuals present in the meeting, and infers who might
be the leader through their NVB. This refers to the relationship between the perception of
leadership and the observed NVB. On the other hand, the actual leader might speak more
and approach more closely than the followers. This describes the relation between an
individual’s actual leadership and his or her NVB. If the perception of leadership and the
actual leadership correspond with each other, this is accuracy. Accuracy as we described it
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here is one aspect of a person’s nonverbal communication abilities (Riggio, 2006).
Nonverbal communication abilities are understood as individual differences in people’s
skills to convey nonverbal messages to others, to read others’ NVB, and to regulate and
control their nonverbal displays (Riggio, 2006). They are part of the domain of
interpersonal skills, which are the skills used by a person to properly interact with others
(Riggio, Riggio, Salinas, & Cole, 2003).
Nonverbal communication abilities and NVB play an important role in leadership
(Stein, 1975). Leadership is the process of influencing or controlling the behavior of others
in order to reach a shared goal (Northouse, 2007; Stogdill, 1950). It has even been
suggested that in the leadership context, nonverbal communication is more important than
verbal communication. When the leader’s verbal and nonverbal cues are in contradiction,
the followers are more likely to trust the leader’s nonverbal cues (Remland, 1981).
Individuals in leadership positions express their power and authority not only verbally but
also nonverbally to get followers’ attention and exert influence over them, for example, by
being nonverbally persuasive (using greater facial expressiveness and greater fluency and
pitch variety; Burgoon, Birk, & Pfau, 1990). A number of studies have documented the
effects of leader NVB on leadership effectiveness (i.e., the evaluations of leader's
competence, supportiveness, or success and the leader effects on followers satisfaction,
motivation, and performance; Kaiser, Hogan, & Craig, 2008). For example, leaders
establish a high level of mutual trust, cohesion, and sensitivity to the follower’s needs by
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demonstrating abilities to communicate nonverbally (Yukl, 2010). According to Riggio and
colleagues, leaders who are able to correctly read and interpret nonverbal cues and act upon
this understanding are more likely to exhibit behaviors that meet the needs of their
followers (Reichard & Riggio, 2008; Riggio, 1986, 2006; Riggio & Carney, 2003),
ultimately resulting in more positive perceptions of the leader’s effectiveness (Riggio et al.,
2003). Uhl-Bien (2004) suggests that the leader’s nonverbal interpersonal skills are part of
the key features needed to build effective leader-follower relationships. Thus NVB is a
crucial means through which interpersonal skills lead to effective leadership.
In this chapter, we present an integrative review regarding the role of NVB in
leadership. We organize the chapter around the following central questions: Based on
which NVB do individuals perceive or infer leadership in emergent hierarchies? Based on
which leader NVB do followers perceive effective leadership in actual hierarchies? Which
NVB do leaders exhibit? How does leader NVB impact leadership effectiveness?
Consequently, the goals of this chapter are (1) to provide an overview of the empirical
findings pertaining to NVB in a leadership context; (2) to show how individual differences
affect the relation between NVB and leadership; (3) to discuss implications of the reported
findings for leaders; and (4) to draw conclusions and make suggestions on how to advance
research in this field.
Nonverbal Behavior and the Perception of Leadership
Nonverbal behavior plays an important part in the perception of leadership.
Research on NVB and perceived leadership has focused on two distinct aspects: the role of
NVB for emergent leadership, and the perception of leadership based on NVB. In this
section, both aspects are presented and discussed.
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NVB and Emergent Leadership
An emergent leader is defined as the person who is not assigned a leadership
position but arises as a leader within a group (Guastello, 2002; Stein & Heller, 1979). The
emergent leader is typically the one who has the most influence in the group (Stein &
Heller, 1979). An individual emerges as a leader based on other individuals’ perceptions of
him or her (e.g., Gray & Densten, 2007; Schyns, Felfe, & Blank, 2007). This mechanism is
explained by the Expectation States Theory (EST; Berger, Conner, & Fisek, 1974; Berger,
Fisek, Norman, & Zelditch, 1977; Ridgeway & Berger, 1986). According to EST, group
members form performance expectations about each other. A performance expectation is a
“generalized anticipation of one’s own or another’s capacity to make useful contributions to
the task” (Ridgeway & Berger, 1986, p. 604). To the extent that all group members share
these expectations, they become self-fulfilling prophecies. Expectations are affected,
especially in relatively homogenous peer groups, by the NVB exhibited by the group
members (Ridgeway & Berger, 1986). To illustrate, an individual who talks a lot in a group
discussion might be perceived as an expert on the discussion topic, so the performance
expectations for this individual are high. As a consequence, this individual is provided with
more opportunities to contribute, thus gaining more influence in the group and emerging as
the group’s leader.
The typical research design to assess emergent leadership is to videotape group
interactions, to code the NVB of each group member, and then to compare it with the group
members’ ratings of each other in terms of leadership (e.g., Baird, 1977; Riggio et al.,
2003). Some studies have, however, used external (non-group members) for assessing the
leadership of each group member. To illustrate, in some studies (Moore & Porter, 1988;
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Schmidt Mast, Hall, Murphy, & Colvin, 2003; Stang, 1973), external observers watched
different targets and then rated their leadership or dominance (i.e., any behavior aiming at
gaining influence over others; Schmid Mast, 2010). The observations yield information
about which of the targets’ NVB is used by observers to infer leadership, thus emergent
leadership. There are a number of NVB that people use to infer leadership. For example,
gazing more, especially at the end of a statement (Kalma & van Rooij, 1982) in order to
invite others to speak up, is a behavior that emergent leaders exhibit. Also, body
movements such as more or less arm and shoulder movements contribute to perceptions of
emergent leadership (Baird, 1977). The choice of seating place can also affect emergence
of a leader (e.g., Heckel, 1973; Porter & Geis, 1981; Ward, 1968). It seems to be normal in
developed countries at least, that leaders are expected to sit at the head of the table.
Speaking time has also been shown to relate to emergent leadership as demonstrated in a
meta-analysis by Schmid Mast (2002). Visual dominance, defined as the ratio of the
percentage of looking while speaking divided by the percentage of looking while listening
(Exline, Ellyson, & Long, 1975) also shows a positive link to emergent leadership (Dovidio
& Ellyson, 1982).
The most comprehensive meta-analysis on the link between NVB and emergent
leadership or perceived dominance stems from Hall, Coast, and Smith LeBeau (2005)1.
Results suggest that many different cues are assumed to be markers of emergent leadership.
Individuals are perceived as emergent leaders when they show more gazing, more nodding,
and lowered eyebrows. They are perceived as emergent leaders when they demonstrate less
self-touching but more touching others. They are perceived as emergent leaders when they
have a more variable tone of voice, a faster speech rate, and a lower voice pitch as well as
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when they show more vocal relaxation. Additionally, they are perceived as emergent
leaders when they show more erect or tense postures, have more hand and arm gestures,
more body or leg shifts, as well as more body openness. Also, they are perceived as
emergent leaders when they interrupt others more often.
NVB and Perceptions of Leadership
The perception of leadership by group members is also important in established
hierarchies. The power leaders have depends on how they are perceived by followers
(Hollander & Julian, 1969; Maurer & Lord, 1991; Pfeffer, 1977).
The perception of leadership in an established hierarchy can be understood by using
implicit leadership theory (ILT; e.g., Lord, de Vader, & Alliger, 1986; Lord, Foti, &
Phillips, 1982). This theory holds that individuals develop a set of beliefs about the
characteristics and behaviors of effective and ineffective leaders (e.g., strength, charisma,
sensitivity, tyranny) based on previous experiences (Schyns & Schilling, 2010). These
beliefs are outside of conscious awareness − they are implicit. Thus, followers use their
beliefs to explain and evaluate their leader’s behaviors. Research suggests that the degree of
matching that occurs between followers’ beliefs and their leaders’ behavior partially
determines whether followers categorize their leaders as effective or ineffective leaders
(Nye, 2002; Nye & Forsyth, 1991; Schyns & Schilling, 2010).
NVB plays a role in leadership perception. For example, Savvas and Schyns (2012)
used ILT and pictures of facial expression to investigate how leadership was perceived.
Participants reported their beliefs about the characteristics and behaviors of leaders. Then
each participant examined a photo of a man in which the facial expression differed (neutral
vs. raising/lowering and pulling together the eyebrows ). Raising and pulling together the
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eyebrows typically expresses sadness or fear, whereas lowering and pulling together the
eyebrows typically expresses anger (Ekman, Friesen, & Hager, 2002). The participants then
were asked to evaluate the man in the picture with respect to leadership perception using
the same questionnaire in which they reported their beliefs about the characteristics and
behaviors of leaders. Results showed that when the participants’ beliefs matched how they
perceived the man based on his facial expression, the depicted man was evaluated to be
In sum, the implicit theories about leader characteristics that followers harbor
influence how a leader is perceived. For all of these judgments, perceptions and evaluations
of leadership are based on the leader’s NVB. In order to complete this overview, it is
important not only to understand how leadership is perceived but also how it is expressed
Nonverbal Behavior and the Expression of Leadership
A leader’s role is to provide information, to instruct, direct, coordinate, and to give
feedback (Mintzberg, 1973). Obviously, encoding or sending of nonverbal messages to
followers, co-workers, or business partners is part of the leader role. The leader’s NVB
differs according to the leadership style adopted by the leader (constructive vs. destructive).
In this section, we review studies in which NVB of actual leaders was studied in order to
identify the NVB relevant to constructive and destructive leadership theories.
One of the most effective or constructive leadership styles is the charismatic or
transformational leadership style2 (Bass & Bass, 2008). It results in increased follower
satisfaction and more organizational effectiveness (Lowe, Kroeck, & Sivasubramaniam,
1996). This style typically includes NVB such as animated facial expressions, faster rate of
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speech, and erect posture or expansive body movements (Friedman, Prince, Riggio, &
DiMatteo, 1980; Friedman & Riggio, 1981). Charismatic leaders use these nonverbal cues
“to move, inspire, or captivate others” (Friedman et al., p. 133), to express a strong and
confident presence, and to stimulate desired responses from followers (Gardner & Avolio,
1998). Even in an experimental setting it has been shown that the expression of certain
NVB makes people judge somebody as charismatic (e.g., Awamleh, 1997; Awamleh &
Gardner, 1999; Howell & Frost, 1989; Shea & Howell, 1999). For example, Awamleh and
his colleague (Awamleh, 1997; Awamleh & Gardner, 1999) presented videotaped
charismatic speeches to participants. The actor was trained to use animated facial
expressions, dynamic hand and body gestures, to show vocal fluency, and to maintain eye
contact. Results demonstrated that leaders were perceived as charismatic when they
exhibited the above-mentioned NVB more so than when they did not. In a laboratory
experiment, Shea and Howell (1999) trained actors to be charismatic or non-charismatic
leaders. Charismatic leaders were trained to maintain direct eye contact, to have an
animated facial expression, to use a captivating voice tone, to lean forward toward the
participants, and to alternate between pacing and sitting on the edge of the desk.
Contrastingly, non-charismatic leaders were trained to maintain sporadic eye contact, a
neutral tone of voice, and a neutral facial expression. The study showed that charismatic
leaders interacting with the participants were perceived as charismatic when they exhibited
the corresponding NVB. Consistent with the experimental studies, Groves (2006) examined
actual organizational leaders and found that leader nonverbal expressivity was positively
related to follower ratings of leader charisma.
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In contrast, one of the less effective leadership styles is labeled “destructive
leadership” (Schyns & Schilling, 2012). Destructive leaders intentionally or unintentionally
affect the activities and relationships within the team or the organization (e.g., attempting to
reach higher performance or to bully a follower into leaving) (Schyns & Schilling, 2012). It
results in undermining the follower’s satisfaction and the organization’s effectiveness
(Einarsen, Aasland, & Skogstad, 2007). Many concepts have been used to describe
destructive leadership, such as “toxic leadership” (Lipman-Blumen, 2005) or “abusive
supervision” (Tepper, 2000). Contrary to charismatic leadership research, NVB related to
this style has almost never been investigated. In his definition of abusive supervision,
Tepper (2000) included the display of NVB excluding physical contact, however, he did
not mention specific NVB related to destructive leadership.
Although to date no empirical research has identified the specific NVB relevant to
the expressions of destructive leadership, it is of great importance to expand this research
area. For instance, researchers might want to clarify which NVB refers to destructive
leadership and then how destructive NVB impacts leadership effectiveness. At this point a
table of the results regarding the role of NVB in leadership is provided (Table 1).
Nonverbal Behavior and Effective Leadership
Obviously, the expression of leadership through NVB can be beneficial for leaders
in order to be effective. In this section we review some of the research that demonstrates
the role of NVB in leadership effectiveness, integrating both aspects of leadership
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effectiveness: (1) the evaluations of leaders’ competence, supportiveness, or success, and,
(2) followers’ outcomes such as satisfaction, motivation, or follower/team performance
(Kaiser et al., 2008).
With respect to NVB and leader evaluation, research shows that leader NVB can
convey supportiveness (Remland, Jacobson, & Jones, 1983) and professional success
(DePaulo & Friedman, 1998; Shamir, House, & Arthur, 1993). In an experimental study
(Remland et al., 1983), undergraduate students were asked to read a scenario in which
different aspects of leader NVB were described, and then the students were asked to
evaluate the leaders’ supportiveness. Results showed that participants perceived leaders as
supportive when they touched their followers, were oriented toward their followers, spoke
with a soft voice, smiled with compassion, gazed, and nodded. In contrast, leaders who kept
their distance, were leaning back, spoke in a firm voice, interrupted, did not look or smile,
and turned away from their followers were perceived as non-supportive. Moreover,
DePaulo and Friedman’s review (1998) demonstrated that the display of more eye contact,
more gesturing, more smiling, animated facial expressions, and more pitch variation were
related to professional success. Research on charismatic leadership shows that more
expressive NVB is linked to more leader success (Bass, 1990; Riggio, 1998).
Leader NVB not only impacts the evaluations of leaders, but also follower
outcomes. In a work context, according to the Pygmalion theory (Eden, 1990), leaders
might adapt their behavior toward their followers in accordance with the leaders’
expectations about followers’ performance. This behavior, in turn, influences the followers’
self-efficacy (Bandura, 1977) and performance (Sutton & Woodman, 1989). This influence
can be beneficial as well as detrimental. For instance, if the leader expects increased
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performance from his or her followers, then the followers indeed show that increase; and if
the leader expects decreased performance from them, then the followers show that
decrease. Research demonstrated that leaders’ NVB is different when interacting with
followers of whom they have higher performance expectations than those of whom they
have lower performance expectations. However, the difference is undetectable by followers
(King, 1971). King (1971) demonstrated the Pygmalion effect in a training program for
disadvantaged people using an experimental approach. He randomly selected different
individuals as high aptitude personnel (HAPs), leading the leaders to expect higher
performance from these followers. Results showed that the HAPs showed significantly
higher performance than the other followers (control group). Post-experimental interviews
were conducted with the followers in order to better understand the effect. Two pictures of
their leader were shown to the followers: they were identical except that one was modified
to make the pupil-size of the leader’s eyes larger than the other. Enlarged pupil size is
indicative of favorable attitudes toward others (Janisse, 1973). Both HAPs and control
group were asked to choose the picture that was closest to the way in which their leader
looked at them. The HAPs picked pictures with enlarged pupils significantly more often
than the control group. However, they did not notice the pupil size difference between
pictures. Thus, the way a leader looks at and to his or her followers subconsciously
influences the followers’ performance.
Also, leaders’ NVB can affect followers’ satisfaction, motivation, and performance
(Tjosvold, 1984). In a laboratory study (Tjosvold, 1984), participants interacted with a
leader in order to complete a task. The leader was either directive or non-directive and
behaved in a nonverbally cold or warm manner. Cold NVB consisted of a tough voice,
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smiling avoidance, stiff facial expression, greater interpersonal distance, and eye contact
avoidance, whereas warm NVB included soft and audible tone of voice, smiling, friendly
facial expression, closer interpersonal distance, and direct eye contact. Results showed that
participants who interacted with a warm leader were satisfied with the leader, perceived the
leader as helpful, wanted to work again with the leader, and wanted to meet the leader
socially. Moreover, leaders’ warm NVB coupled with directive instructions increased
followers’ productivity, whereas leaders’ warm NVB coupled with non-directive
instructions decreased followers’ productivity. In the same vein, Gaddis, Connelly, and
Mumford (2004) demonstrated that after a failure feedback situation in which leaders
delivered the feedback in a positive and supportive way (i.e., calm voice and smile), teams
performed better on the task than did teams whose leaders displayed negative affect (i.e.,
tense voice, negative tone of voice). In a recent experimental study, Talley (2012)
demonstrated that attraction or repulsion toward a leader can be determined by the leader’s
hand gestures displayed during a speech. Participants watched a video of a leader using
different hand gestures: positive (humility, community, and steepling hands), defensive
(hands behind back or in pocket, or crossed arms), and no hand gestures. Results showed
that participants perceived positive and defensive hand gestures as more immediate than no
hand gestures, which were perceived as distancing. Moreover, leaders with positive hand
gestures were perceived as more attractive than leaders with defensive and no hand
The way leaders use NVB to influence and guide their followers can be explained
by the emotional contagion process (see Hatfield, Cacioppo, & Rapson, 1994). This process
refers to the follower’s tendency to automatically imitate and synchronize with the facial
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expression, postures, tone of voice, or body movements of the leader, mostly
unconsciously. This results in emotional convergence between the leader and the follower,
whereby the follower actually feels the mimicked expressions. Empirical evidence supports
this. Sullivan and Masters (1988) showed videotaped excerpts of political candidates to
participants. The candidates displayed either happy/reassuring (e.g., raised eyebrows,
smiles) or neutral facial expressions. Results indicated that changes in participants’
attitudes of political support (i.e., measure of warmth toward the candidate) were more
likely to be influenced by the emotional responses to happy displays than by party
identification or assessment of leadership skills. More recently, Cherulnik and colleagues
(Cherulnik, Donley, Wiewel, & Miller, 2001) found that followers imitated the nonverbal
cues (e.g., smiles) emanated by charismatic leaders during their talks, whereas followers
did not imitate the cues of non-charismatic leaders.
We can conclude that leader NVB affects leadership effectiveness most likely
through an interactive process between leader expressive NVB and followers’ perception of
and imitation thereof. Although there is no simple and easy recipe for leadership
effectiveness (Eden et al., 2000; White & Locke, 2000), we suggest in the next section that
leaders be trained in nonverbal communication in order to maximize their impact on
Importance of Leader NVB for Leadership Outcomes
As mentioned in the introduction, effective leaders need specific interpersonal
skills, and NVB is an important part of the interpersonal skills that lead to effective
leadership. In this section, we provide some tips on how leaders can be trained to improve
their nonverbal encoding and decoding skills in order to be effective.
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There is evidence that leaders can improve their nonverbal expression of leadership
through training (e.g., Frese, Beimel, & Schoenborn, 2003; Taylor, 2002; Towler, 2003;
Vrij & Mann, 2005). Training of charismatic nonverbal communication (e.g., facial
expressions, body gestures, eye contact, and animated voice tone) and of visionary or
inspirational verbal content communication (e.g., articulating a vision, using metaphors)
both showed an increase in leadership effectiveness. For example, in a study by Towler
(2003), participants who received charismatic leadership training exhibited more
charismatic behaviors and influenced followers to perform better on a task. In the same
vein, such training successfully developed a range of NVB — using gestures, variation of
speech, increased speech speed and loudness — that lead to charismatic leadership
behavior (Frese et al., 2003). Using a similar approach to the two aforementioned studies,
Antonakis, Fenley, and Liechti (2011) also demonstrated in two studies that charismatic
leadership training influenced evaluations of leader charisma positively. The results from
these studies suggest that charismatic NVB is an acquirable skill.
The skill to accurately decode subtle nonverbal cues is also important for leaders to
possess, not only to understand the messages sent by the followers, but also for building
rapport and for being responsive to the needs of followers. There is evidence showing that
leaders might be more skilled in correctly assessing others’ states and traits based on
observing others’ NVB than are followers (Schmid Mast, Jonas, & Hall, 2009). Moreover,
accurate assessment of others by leaders is related to positive leadership outcomes, such as
increases in follower satisfaction (Byron, 2007; Schmid Mast, Jonas, Klöckner Cronauer, &
Darioly, 2012). Although not much is known about the possibility of training leaders’
nonverbal decoding skills, Costanzo’s (1992) findings suggest that leaders’ NVB decoding
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skills can be improved. The author conducted a study in which participants received either
an informational lecture on verbal and nonverbal cues, or training in detecting relevant cues
in filmed interactions. In the latter condition, participants watched videotaped excerpts of
social interactions and were asked to judge, for instance, the type of relationship among the
social interaction partners. Then, the correct answer and the specific nonverbal cues
indicative of the correct answer for each scene were pointed out to the participants. Results
indicated that only participants who received the detection training significantly improved
their skills to correctly interpret NVB.
It seems that it is possible to train leaders and NVB training for leaders is beneficial
for leadership effectiveness. Riggio and colleagues (Riggio, 1989; Riggio & Carney, 2003;
Riggio & Reichard, 2008; Riggio et al., 2003) highlight that feedback is important in order
to improve skills in nonverbal decoding and encoding. Leaders can become more aware of
their own NVB as well as that of their followers.
Leadership, Nonverbal Behavior, and Individual Differences
Considering leadership as an interactive dynamic between a leader and a follower, it
is relevant to take into account the individual characteristics that might have an impact on
this dynamic. We will discuss gender, cultural background, and other individual differences
that can affect the leadership-NVB link.
Gender and Leadership
Research shows that the gender of the leader plays a significant role in the
leadership context. The perception of leadership through NVB might vary according to the
gender of the leader. On the one hand, leadership is inferred from different NVB for female
and male leaders. Perceivers rely more on downward head tilt and lowered eyebrows when
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assessing the leadership position of women than when assessing leadership in men (Schmid
Mast & Hall, 2004b). On the other hand, the same behavior exhibited by a female or male
leader results in different perceptions. Women using more eye contact, gesturing, smiling,
animated facial expressions, and variations in pitch are seen as more charismatic than men
showing the same NVB (Bass & Avolio, 1989).
On the other hand, women and men exhibit different NVB in leadership positions.
In a leadership position, men use more expansive body positions, speak more, use a louder
voice, and interrupt others more frequently than do women (Hall, 2006). However, female
leaders have more expressive faces and maintain closer interpersonal distance than do male
leaders (Hall, 2006).
Finally, the same NVB exhibited by female leaders and by male leaders affects
followers differently. Assertive and directive behaviors (e.g., speaking first or responding
quickly in conversation) are perceived more favorably in male than in female leaders
(Eagly & Karau, 2002). This suggests that gender-congruent NVB affects the leader
perception positively and gender-incongruent NVB hurts the leader.
Although we focus on leader gender, follower gender can also be a moderator of
how male or female leaders behave nonverbally and how they are perceived based on their
exhibited NVB. Research in leadership emergence suggests that the interaction between the
perceiver’s gender and the target’s gender influences how people infer leadership. For
example, the cue of sitting at the end of the table held for leadership emergence (e.g.,
Heckel, 1973; Porter & Geis, 1981; Ward, 1968), but when individuals have the choice
between a man and woman seated at each end of the table, they tended to choose a person
of their own sex as leader (Jackson, Engstrom, & Emmers-Sommer, 2007). In regard to
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leadership position, when female leaders exhibit upright posture, high speech rate,
moderate eye contact while speaking, few vocal hesitations, and calm restrained hand
gestures, they influence male followers less than a male leader exhibiting similar NVB
(Carli, LaFleur, & Loeber, 1995). Female leaders who exhibit the above-mentioned NVB
were also perceived as less likable by male followers in comparison to men exhibiting
similar NVB. However, female leaders who exhibited the above-mentioned NVB did not
have a differential effect on female followers. For women followers, the woman leader’s
nonverbal cues did not affect how much followers were influenced or their liking for the
leader (Carli et al., 1995).
To conclude, the relationship between leadership, NVB, and gender is complex and
multifaceted. Depending on the interaction between gender and leadership position, men or
women express different kinds of NVB, which affect the way others perceive the NVB
expressed by them.
Cultural Background and Leadership
The relationship between NVB and the cultural background of the followers or
leaders is also relevant to leadership. Cultural background affects how leadership is
perceived and expressed. NVB takes on shared meaning in a specific cultural setting
(Knapp & Hall, 2010). For example, a Japanese leader may interact at a more pronounced
interpersonal distance compared to an American leader, and so, cultural differences in NVB
between leaders and followers might result in misunderstandings. Some authors
(Matsumoto, 1990, 1991) suggest that persons from individualistic cultures (e.g., the
United States) express feelings more openly and tend to be more nonverbally demonstrative
than individuals of collectivistic cultures (e.g., China). Moreover, people of individualistic
NON VERBAL BEHAVIOR 20
cultures tend to be more accurate in decoding subtle nonverbal cues (e.g., Beck, Bröske,
Koster, Menzel, & Mohr, 2003; Hofstede, 2001; Matsumoto et al., 2002) and there is a
cultural in-group advantage at correctly assessing others’ emotions (Elfenbein, Beaupré,
Lévesque, & Hess, 2007), despite emotion recognition being universal (Ekman, 1994). The
Global Leadership and Organizational Behavior Effectiveness study (GLOBE; House,
Hanges, Javidan, Dorfman, & Gupta, 2004), a project that included 62 cultures,
demonstrated that there are both universal characteristics and significant cultural
differences concerning leadership. While charismatic leadership is preferred in many
cultures, the overall behaviors associated with leadership and the expected behaviors from
leaders may be dissimilar. For example, in her study, Gaal (2007) examined the relationship
between charismatic/transformational leadership, NVB, and culture. Two cultures were
observed: The United States (low on power distance) and Hungary (high on power
distance). A male actor was asked to recite a charismatic speech in three different ways:
reserved, orchestrated, and aggressive. In the reserved scenario, the actor had a monotone
voice, did not look at the camera or move his arms. In the orchestrated scenario, the actor
was dynamic, with an animated voice, a natural eye contact with the camera, and with his
palms open. In the aggressive scenario, the actor yelled and showed intense emotions
during his speech, maintained direct eye contact with the camera and used his arms or
hands to point or knock on the podium. Participants randomly watched one of the three
scenarios. The NVB displayed by the leader was perceived differently by observers in the
United States than by observers in Hungary. For both countries, there was a positive
relationship between the orchestrated NVB and charismatic leadership characteristics (i.e.,
vision, inspiration, and trustworthiness) and a negative relationship between the reserved
NON VERBAL BEHAVIOR 21
NVB and charismatic leadership characteristics. However, the aggressive scenario was
perceived as more detrimental for the perception of charismatic leadership characteristics in
the United States than in Hungary compared to the two other scenarios. In the same vein,
Matsumoto (1990) studied displayed emotions in Americans and Japanese people.
Participants saw faces portraying emotions and assessed the suitability of each in different
social situations such as in interactions between a leader and a follower. Results showed
that on the one hand, the Japanese found it suitable to express negative emotions (e.g.,
anger) toward followers because the expression of such behavior serves to maintain the
existing, culturally grounded power distance. On the other hand, the Americans
discouraged leader displays of negative emotions to followers because these emphasize
status differences, which is contradictory to the American culture of equality.
Although the impact of cultural difference in NVB expressed by leaders has not
been covered in great detail, the research demonstrates that leaders may be perceived
differently in one culture than another and what is “acceptable” leader NVB may be
Other Characteristics and Leadership
There is an almost endless list of other characteristics that do or potentially could
affect the NVB-leadership relationship. For example, expressions and perceptions of
leadership may differ in important ways depending on the individual’s social motives (e.g.,
goals, desires) or on his or her emotional state (e.g., happiness, anger). A leader who argues
with a follower about respecting a deadline might behave differently than a leader who
wants to fire an ineffective follower. Moreover, smiling in a situation of crisis may be
regarded as sarcastic rather than supportive. This idea is supported by Bucy (2000), who
NON VERBAL BEHAVIOR 22
showed that leaders were assessed more favorably when the NVB they demonstrated was
considered compatible with the message they conveyed.
The nature of the relationship the individual has with others (e.g., new or well-
known followers, colleagues, leader, or clients) might also affect the NVB-leadership
relationship. Cashdan (1998) demonstrated that, in discussions, female and male leaders
showed differences in NVB depending on whether they were with acquaintances or
strangers. Female and male leaders spoke more in discussions with strangers than in
discussions with acquaintances. Female leaders had more open body postures; in particular,
their legs were more open in discussions with strangers than in discussions with
acquaintances. Male leaders smiled less in discussions with strangers than in discussions
Personality is certainly another important factor. For example, extraversion and
dominance affect emergent leadership. Extraversion refers to a predisposition to be
outgoing, active, or assertive (Judge & Bono, 2000) and the personality trait of dominance
refers to a predisposition to try to influence others (Ellyson & Dovidio, 1985). There is
evidence indicating that personality influences sitting positions. Extraverts tend to choose
seating positions that put them in the focus of the others (Cook, 1970) which then, as we
have discussed earlier, increases the chances for those people to emerge as leaders. In the
same vein, Hare and Bales (1963) noted that people at the head, foot, or center of the table
were likely to have dominant personalities. Kalma, Visser, and Peeters (1993) demonstrated
that in an emergent leadership situation, individuals who scored higher on sociable
dominance (i.e., high self-esteem, positive attitudes toward others, a central position in
groups, a strong need to influence others, and an independent and active attitude) or
NON VERBAL BEHAVIOR 23
aggressive dominance (negative attitudes toward others and a strong motivation to realize
one’s goals, even at the detriment of personal relationships) emerge as leaders with sociably
dominant individuals being chosen more frequently as group leaders than aggressively
dominant individuals. Moreover, sociably dominant individuals behaved differently from
aggressive dominant individuals in that they looked at others more while speaking, had
more eye contact, and used more gestures. Aggressively dominant individuals looked at
others less while listening and interrupted more.
Some of the discussed characteristics can interact with each other and affect the
NVB-leadership relationship. Not much research has looked at such complex patterns. One
example is a study showing that leader gender interacted with dominance and leadership
position in predicting NVB. In non-leadership positions, women who were high in
dominance smiled less than women who were low in dominance, while no such effect
emerged for men (Schmid Mast & Hall, 2004a). There is clearly more research needed to
address such complex interplays.
Conclusion and Outlook
The aim of this chapter is to better understand the role of NVB in leadership by
showing that leader NVB is an important means for framing the relationship between
leaders and followers, and for effective leadership. Differences in NVB among group
members are part of the basis on which leaders emerge in groups. Moreover, followers use
different leader NVB to judge and evaluate their leaders. The NVB that leaders exhibit is
linked to their leadership styles, and leader NVB impacts (most of the time unconsciously)
leadership effectiveness. Knowing which leader NVB is related to better or worse
leadership outcomes is beneficial because it allows for the training of leaders. Leader
NON VERBAL BEHAVIOR 24
interpersonal skill training can make leaders aware of their own NVB and provide them the
tools to adapt to others’ NVB. This awareness and adaptability is necessary in order to be
Organizations that want to improve should be interested in NVB training for their
leaders because it potentially increases leadership effectiveness. Moreover, knowing that
NVB plays a primary role when dissonance occurs between verbal and nonverbal behavior
may help in understanding the demands of leadership in organizations. Leaders are often
required to show different emotions than those they actually feel. For example, during
times of crisis, leaders might more easily find the right words rather than the right NVB to
support their followers. However, they need to display NVB indicative of confidence and
optimism even if they are as worried and anxious as their followers. Thus it is important
that leaders be trained in the context of “emotional labor” (i.e., leaders are expected to
display certain emotions as part of their leadership position; Humphrey, Pollack, &
Research in nonverbal communication and leadership is still scarce. It might be
relevant to know which NVB are more or less related to interpersonal skills in order to
achieve a better focus in leader NVB training. For example, is touching more related to
emotional or social skills according to Riggio’s Social Skills Inventory (Riggio, this
volume; Riggio & Carney, 2003)? Moreover, much of the research focuses on the NVB of
effective leaders, but we need to identify the NVB related to destructive and “toxic” leaders
in order to know their effects and avoid them.
Regarding the methods used, research has tested a range of diverse NVB in relation
to constructive leadership, but these typically remain on a correlational and descriptive
NON VERBAL BEHAVIOR 25
level. We need to better understand the effects of the interactions and combinations of
different NVB (e.g., touching and smiling) in order to know their effects and see whether
they are perceived as effective (i.e., similar effects as incongruent verbal and nonverbal
behavior). Additionally, analyzing mediators of the expression or perception of leadership
(e.g., perceived competence or perceived self-confidence) are needed to better understand
why NVB is used to convey or to infer leadership. Finally, methodological innovations in
the study of NVB and leadership are needed. For example, computer-mediated automatic
coding of NVB related to emergent leadership is being developed and might facilitate the
work of researchers (Sanchez-Cortes, Aran, Schmid Mast, & Gatica-Perez, 2011).
Another important area that deserves the attention of researchers is how leaders and
followers cope with the absence of some NVB in virtual teams. These specific teams use
computer-mediated communication (CMC). CMC includes a variety of electronic message
systems that can be supplemented by audio and video links. Examples of CMC are email,
chat, or video-conference. It is well-established that there is little or no NVB in most of
CMC (e.g., Kiesler, Siegel, & McGuire, 1984; Walther, 1996), except for video-conference,
but even in this situation NVB is limited to some extent. Because one of the functions of
NVB is to reduce the ambiguity of a message, there is a high probability for
misinterpretation in CMC (Sanderson, 1993). Interestingly, individuals create a number of
strategies to compensate for the lack of NVB in CMC. Most notable is the use of
“emoticons” – smiley-faced characters used to express emotions (Walther & D'Addario,
2001). Additionally, it has been suggested that individuals may become more precise in
their use of words to more clearly communicate emotions in CMC (Newlands, Anderson, &
Mullin, 2003). Research on emergent leadership in virtual teams demonstrated that
NON VERBAL BEHAVIOR 26
emergent leaders sent more and longer email messages than their team members did (Yoo
& Alavi, 2004), suggesting that they act similarly to emergent leaders in face-to-face teams
who speak more (Schmid Mast, 2002).
In conclusion, additional research is needed and leader NVB training is important to
reach individual, leadership, and organizational effectiveness. Thus, the future for NVB
research in the leadership context and for leader development seems encouraging. This
integrative review on the role of NVB in leadership provides organizations with evidence
that NVB greatly influences the attribution of leadership characteristics and may be trained
in order to improve interpersonal skills.
NON VERBAL BEHAVIOR 27
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1. Hall and colleagues’ meta-analysis also includes studies with personality dominance
(single target). In this chapter, we only took the results on emergent leadership and
perceived dominance (group interaction).
2. Whereas originally, charisma referred to attributes of leaders (Weber, 1980, original
1921), modern research focuses on the behavioral side of charisma, which is
represented in the notion of transformational leadership (Bass, 1985). Charismatic
and transformational leadership both refer to the same phenomenon (cf., Schyns,
2001) and can be used interchangeably.
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Overview of Results Regarding the Role of NVB in Leadership
Gazing/ Eye contact
Visual dominance c
NON VERBAL BEHAVIOR 45
Speaking time c
Faster rate of speech
Lower voice pitch
Seating position c
Head of table
Edge of the desk
Note: The categories related to leadership are based on Hall et al.'s meta-analysis (2005, p. 903)
+ = positive and significant relationship (e.g., more vocal variation, more gesture); - = negative and significant
relationship (e.g., less speech errors, less interruption); a = Enlarged pupil size; b = Soft voice; c = three
additional NVB categories besides Hall et al.’s meta-analysis; blank cells = relations were not tested.