Leadership Using Effective Nonverbal Communication

Guest Post by Dr. Novadean Watson-Stone
Program Director, Information Technology Management, American Public University System

I began my career as a leader on the ballfields, where I honed my skills as an athlete in secondary school and college. I continued developing those leadership skills in the classroom, in school activities and clubs, and in student government. Moving into a leadership role seemed natural after I entered the working world.

In this week’s guest blog post, Dr. Novadean Watson-Stone writes about the importance of leaders using effective nonverbal communication. Whether leadership skills evolve naturally or through experience, there’s always room for improvement, and Dr. Watson-Stone’s piece covers nonverbal actions that can sometimes contradict your words.

While the concept of leadership is difficult to define, Robert N. Lussier and Christopher F. Achua, authors of the book Leadership: Theory, Application and Skill Development, present an excellent definition of leadership as “the influencing process between leaders and followers to achieve organizational objectives through change.” But how do we apply such definition to our everyday experiences?

Alison Doyle, job search expert for The Balance Careers, offers the following top 10 leadership skills needed by a strong leader: communication, motivation, delegating, positivity, trustworthiness, creativity, feedback, responsibility, commitment, and flexibility. These skills are essential to produce attitudinal and behavioral changes in anyone being led. Also, they are critical to transforming the minds and disposition of a protégé, mentee, or apprentice.

In addition, these skills set the stage for developing followers into effective, productive individuals. However, while most leaders exercise keen verbal skills as they demonstrate their leadership, many people stumble when it comes to synchronizing their verbal skills with their nonverbal cues. How do we exercise effective nonverbal skills as leaders?

Nonverbal Communication Skills

Nonverbal communication skills refer to the frequent facial expressions you make, the tone in your voice, your gestures, your eye contact, and your body language. Your nonverbal communication reflects the way you really feel.

Research contends that over 90% of what we communicate is done via our nonverbal cues. Who did you lead today with sincere eye contact? Who did you motivate today using open body gestures? Who did you inspire with an encouraging stance? You may say no one or that you are not sure, but nonverbal signals can be confusing, poorly conveyed, or fake, which undermines your ability to influence and build lasting relationships.

Leadership and the Use of Effective Nonverbal Communication

Consider using these techniques to improve your use of nonverbal communication:

  • Exercise active listening and repeat what is communicated to convey your understanding.
  • Provide eye contact. Show interest in what your subordinate or follower says by giving them your undivided attention.
  • Use effective body language. Present a welcoming posture when speaking.
  • Use appropriate body position. Allow people to feel comfortable speaking and sharing insights in your presence.
  • Avoid intimidating gestures. Maintain your bearing and minimize the use of intimidating or dismissive gestures.

Authors Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., Melinda Smith, M.A., Lawrence Robinson, and Greg Boose of HelpGuide offer these additional suggestions for effective nonverbal communication:

  • Learn to manage stress in the moment. Stress compromises your ability to communicate. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by stress, take a timeout. Take a moment to calm down before you jump back into the conversation. Once you’ve regained your emotional equilibrium, you’ll feel better equipped to deal with the situation in a positive way.
  • Develop your emotional awareness. Being emotionally aware enables you to:
    • Accurately read other people, including the emotions they’re feeling and the unspoken messages they’re sending.
    • Create trust in relationships by sending nonverbal signals that match up with your words.
    • Respond in ways that show others that you understand and care about them.

As you practice these skills, you will develop the art and science of leadership. You will be able to better influence changes in your organization. Also, you will be able to get your peers, followers, and leadership to support and implement your suggestions and ideas without begging or using coercive measures.

People will work hard for you because they respect and care to see you succeed, just as you have cared, respected, and worked hard for them to succeed. As you lead using your nonverbal skills, I extend to you a quote by inspirational writer William A. Ward, “Men [or women] never plan to be failures; they simply fail to plan to be successful.” Plan to succeed!

About the Author

Dr. Watson-Stone is currently the Program Director for the undergraduate programs in Information Technology Management and Computer Technology at American Public University System (APUS); she serves an aggressively growing department. She has over 20 years of experience in the information technology field.

Recently, Dr. Watson-Stone presented webinars on Negotiation and Entrepreneurship (Oct 29-30, 2019) for the CompTIA Association of Information Technology Professionals. Previously, she published several blog articles on topics such as collective intelligence and soft skills. She further co-published several other articles to include “RFID with Real Implications,” “Artificial Intelligence in Information Security,” and the “Evolution of Information Security.”

Subjects of Interest


Higher Education

Independent Schools


Student Persistence