Gender differences in nonverbal behavior
of effective leaders:
This paper focuses on the subject that gender differences may
exist in the nonverbal behaviors of leaders and what effect they
might have on the relative effectiveness of the leaders.
Human behaviour can be divided into two mainstreams; nonverbal
and verbal behaviour. Verbal behaviour can be defined as using a
language for sending or receiving a message to another human
being. Verbal behaviour is easily observed (Skinner, 1986), as one
can read or listen to the sender of this communication. Nonverbal
behaviour can be defined as 'any movement or position of the face
and/or body' (Ekman and Van Friesen, 1981).
This research will focus on nonverbal behaviours. As this is still a
very broad topic, this study will focus on effective nonverbal
leadership and the potential differences in gender.
Measuring nonverbal effective leadership in this research includes
research on the effectiveness of the leader as described by his or
her subordinates, as well as by his or her leader. In addition,
nonverbal behaviour will be observed and coded according to a
coding scheme created by Van Rompelberg (2014), and a relation
with gender will be researched.
The main research question in this paper therefore is: 'How does
nonverbal gender behaviour influence effective leadership?' This
question is divided into sub-questions in order to answer this
question as complete as possible.
These sub-questions are 'what is nonverbal behaviour related to
effective leadership', and 'What gender differences exist in
nonverbal behaviour of leaders?', and 'What is effective
In order to answer these sub-questions this research will start with
a literature review on the topics: ' Effective leadership', 'Nonverbal
behaviour', and 'Nonverbal behaviour in gender behaviour'.
This section will provide a theoretical framework on the main
subjects of this research. These subjects are 'Effective leadership';
'Nonverbal leadership', and 'Gender and nonverbal behaviour'.
Yukl (2012) describes that the essences of leadership in
organizations are to influence and facilitate individual and
collective efforts to accomplish shared goals. This corresponds
with Stogdill's definition from 1950: 'a leader’s job is to move
people from where they currently are to where they need to be in
order to create a more innovative and productive organization
The effectiveness of a leader in achieving the organizational goals
is dependent on four key variables (DuBrin, 1998). Two of these
key variables are not entirely controllable by the leader. These are
the 'internal and external environment' and the 'follower
characteristics' (DuBrin, 1998). An example of follower
characteristics is the level of education of the followers.
This will affect the expectations on the kind of leader in their
The other two key variables are the ones that can be influenced by
the leader. These are the 'leader characteristics and traits' and the
'leader behaviour and style' (DuBrin, 1998). Leadership
characteristics and traits are part of a leader’s personality. Various
observations and research studies
Measuring leadership effectiveness:
Often, leadership effectiveness is measured by perceptions of
followers. The implicit view of the followers has therefore become
the main criterion of leadership effectiveness (Van der Weide and
Wilderom, 2004). A regularly used method to measure leadership
effectiveness, which is also based on followers’ perceptions, is the
Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (MLQ) (Bass and Avolio,
1- The MLQ rates the effectiveness of a leader by measuring the
degree of transactional and transformational leadership styles
(Judge & Piccolo, 2004).
2- Van der Weide and Wilderom (2004) propose in their article to
use video observations as a measurement tool in research on
effective leadership, given that video-based observations offer
highly specific measurements based on actual behaviours instead
of merely perceived behaviours (Wilderom & Van der Berg, 2010).
To summarize, effective leadership seems to be positively related
to transformational leadership. Leaders who have personality traits
like for example self-confidence, warmth, extraversion,
assertiveness and a high toleration for frustration are more likely to
be an effective leader. Measuring leadership can be done by
performing an MLQ or by videotaping leaders during meetings. In
addition, follower perceptions of the leader are very important in
leadership effectiveness. Nonetheless, it might be the case that
personality traits for effective women are different than those for
men. In this study there will be explored whether or not nonverbal
behaviour also provides evidence for the statement of Schein
Importance of nonverbal behaviour
Nonverbal behaviour can be defined as 'any movement or position
of the face and/or body. Therefore, nonverbal behaviour is an
important element in human interactions. As we know 55 percent
of the effect of a speech results from the body language, 38
percent from the voice, and just 7 percent from the content of a
Gender differences in leadership
Carless (1998) did a research on gender differences in
transformational leadership because she found out that, even
though an increasingly amount of women are getting employed as
managers, there still exists a masculine focus on leadership. When
reviewing literature on gender and personality this seems not very
Gender differences in nonverbal behaviour do exist on some level.
Women are associated with transformational qualities such as
kindness, supportiveness, affection and care for others. Men on
the other hand are associated with qualities like dominancy,
assertiveness, masterfulness, self-sufficiency and self-confidence.
However, this doesn't mean that women are more effective leaders
than men are. This chapter shows evidence that effective women
do not necessarily show the same nonverbal behaviours as
effective men do.
This study is explorative, it is meant to test if there is any
correlation or relation between nonverbal behaviour, gender and
This leads to a conceptual framework shown in figure 1 below.
This study used a cross-sectional design with three different
(1) Multiple expert rates
The supervisors of the videotaped leaders rated the overall
effectiveness of the leaders.
(2) Follower survey
This survey measured the followers' perception of leaders
(3) Video-based field observations
These videotapes were used to precisely observe and code the
leaders' nonverbal behaviour.
A total of 29 leaders participated in this research. 21 of these
leaders are working for a large Dutch bank at branches in the east
of the Netherlands.
The other 8 leaders are working for a large public organization in
the Netherlands, and are situated amongst different locations
within the Netherlands. The 8 leaders of the large public
organization were randomly chosen from the available samples
with a total of 14 videos of that organization. There are 9 women
and 20 men in this research.
During the meeting both the leader and all the followers were
videotaped using three cameras.
We wanted to record their natural leader- and followership
Immediately after the recorded meetings, each participant follower
was asked to fill in a survey in which they were asked about the
perception of their leaders transformational leadership style and
the degree to which they see their leader as effective.
Before the data could be used for analysis it had to be
standardized. This is necessary because of the variance of the
duration of the videotaped.
After standardizing the data, it was tested for normality. The
Shapiro-Wilk test was used for this, because the sample size was
smaller than 2000, this is the most commonly used method to test
normality for small sample sizes.
The results of the Shapiro-Wilk test can be seen in appendix B.
Because the data were not normally distributed at first, the data
was transformed with the log10 formula. Logarithmic
transformations such as the log10 formula can increase normality
The group of 29 leaders was divided into two groups. The first
group included the less effective leaders, who had an expert rate
lower than 4.75 (on a scale from 1 to 7).
The second group is considered the high effective leaders, as their
expert rates are higher than 4.75.
The distinction between lower effective leaders and higher
effective leaders was set on 4.75 because that corresponds with a
grade between 6,5 and 7 on a scale from 1 to 10, which can be
seen as a 'more than sufficient' (ruim voldoende in Dutch).
In this section the results of the explorative study are reported.
These results are divided into descriptive statistics, correlations
between the various constructs and various analyses testing the
relation between nonverbal behaviour, gender and perceived
Based on the independent expert ratings a distinction is made
between highly effective (n = 19) and least effective leaders (n =
The results of these independent T-tests show a significant
difference between the least effective leaders on speaker fluency.
It is found that the less effective leaders speak less fluently. They
are more likely to use nonverbal hesitations, tag questions,
hedges, and intensifiers.
In addition, even though it is not significant, it seems that less
effective leaders sit more upright than the more effective leaders.
That could also mean that more effective leaders change positions
Tables 1a through 1d present the means, standard deviations and
significance levels of the key behaviours in this study.
Based on the independent expert ratings a distinction is made
between highly effective (n = 19) and least effective leaders
(n = 10).
An interesting finding of this test is that the nonverbal behaviour
‘closed smile’ is not correlated with the nonverbal behaviours
‘upper smile’, ‘broad smile’, and ‘laughter’. These last three
behaviours are all correlated with each other. This might mean that
leaders who show closed smiles, are not very likely to also show
upper, or broad smiles, or even laughter.
Another result that is interesting to see is that the head movement
‘nodding’ is correlated with the behaviours ‘upper smile’, ‘broad
smile’, and ‘leaning forward’. This proves that these positive,
confirming behaviours are correlated significantly with each other.
In addition, the head movement ‘shaking’ is in its turn significantly
correlated with the speaker fluency of the observed leaders.
Speaker fluency is observed with the behaviours ‘nonverbal
hesitations’, ‘tag questions’, ‘intensifiers’, and ‘hedges’. This
means that leaders who show the head movement ‘shaking’ are
more likely to also show more counts of the behaviours of speaker
fluency. The more of these behaviours you show, the lower the
In this study, an independent T-test was used to see if there are
any differences in leadership effectiveness in general between
women and men.
The variable facial expression was divided into three categories:
‘few facial expression’, ‘average facial expression’, and ‘above
average facial expression’.
It was also interesting to see that even tough previous researches
have shown otherwise, (1) speaker fluency was not significantly
correlated with gender. (2) This study shows that an 'upright
position' is correlated strongly but not significantly (p=0.064) with
leadership effectiveness. (3) It also shows that effective female
leaders show fewer 'upright positioning' than effective male
leaders. (4) This could also mean that women in general are less
likely to sit still and change positions more often.
Nonverbal behaviour can indicate a leaders emotion, and can
improve the involvedness of the followers. Once the leader is
aware of gestures and body movements he or she is using, he or
she can compare it to more effective leaders.
Gender differences in nonverbal behaviour do exist on some level.
(1) Women are associated with transformational qualities such as
kindness, affection and care for others. (2) Men on the other hand
are associated with qualities like dominancy, assertiveness and
masterfulness. (3) This showed evidence that effective women do
not necessarily show the same nonverbal behaviours as effective
(4) Speakers fluency are more likely to use nonverbal hesitations,
tag questions, hedges, and intensifiers. This means that leaders
who show head movement ‘shaking’ are more likely to show more
counts of the behaviours of speaker fluency. And it is not
significantly correlated with gender.
(5) Another result that was interesting to see is that the head
movement ‘nodding’ is correlated with the behaviours ‘upper
smile’, ‘broad smile’, and ‘leaning forward’. This proves that these
positive, confirming behaviours are correlated significantly with
each other. Also, the head movement ‘shaking’ is in its turn
significantly correlated with the speaker fluency of the observed
leaders. (6) According to this study women use more intensifiers in
Finally Discussion (Personally Opinion)
In my opinion, we can see clearly that "Body Language" play very
important role in leadership and how to influence the people
around you. I can't imagine a manger don’t know how to effect
When I finished this research, many question get to my mind.
The most important is:
1- Could the clothe influence on body language gesture on
2- The age of Leader and its experience, Could it effect on body
language to approach him to more affective leadership.
Ahmad Haj Ali
M.SC in Construction Management
Aleppo University, Syria.