'Power poses' like Bolt's may make you a champion in the workplace

'Power poses' like Bolt's may make you a champion in the workplace

With news that Olympic track superstar Usain Bolt will soon hit Aussie shores, studies have revealed there may be something more to his trademark ‘lightning bolt’ pose than putting on a show – and business leaders should take note.

One of the Jamaican track star's signature moves after winning each race at the Olympics was to extend one arm skywards, as though to shoot a lightning bolt into the sky.

Now, what has this got to do with leadership or HR? Well, it turns out that there is more than meets the eye when it comes to power poses. Several studies have found that adopting such poses can increase confidence and mental functioning, helping leaders become better at their work.

"There's not as much separation between body and mind as we once thought," Dr Sian Beilock, psychology professor at University of Chicago and author of Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To claimed live to air on CNN.

"A lot of research shows that how we move our body and hold our body affects how we think. It affects our confidence. It can even affect how other people perceive us," she added.

In another study by professors from Columbia and Harvard’s business schools, it was found that certain “high-power poses” can help people feel more powerful and increase the “dominance hormone” testosterone and a decrease in cortisol, a hormone that produces stress.

Power poses can also increase a tendency towards risk-taking, a trait often found in leaders.

The poses that appear effective are the ones where you take up as much space as possible. Power posers who know what they are doing tend to stretch out their limbs with their feet on desks, interlace their fingers behind their heads with their elbows pointing outwards, or perhaps lean commandingly over tables.

Conversely, those who sit hunched over, their arms pinned to their sides or fold their hands on their laps, experience a declining sense of power.

"The pose itself doesn't appear to matter," explained Dana Carney, the study's lead author, who is now a professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

"If I have to go into battle with someone in a board meeting and this person is always arrogant, I want them to feel a little intimidated," Carney said. "I might want to use power poses, not only for my own wellbeing, but to make them shrink a little bit so they chill out and everyone else can get their ideas heard."