Nonverbal Cues of the Leadership Selection Process:
Leadership Selection in a Small Group
David Reginald Colbert
The vast majority of studies regarding nonverbal behavior and leadership have focused on people already in positions of leadership rather than on emerging leaders. This study focused on how leaders emerge in small groups as a result of the nonverbal cues of rapport building linked to the selection of leadership by group members. Through nonverbal cues of rapport, a small group encourages the leadership behavior of its selected candidates. Two propositions guided this exploratory qualitative research. The first proposition addressed the emergence of new leadership in a situation where the existing leader is unable or unwilling to adjust to a new context. The second proposition suggested that a small group actually encourages a specific person to manifest leadership behavior using nonverbal cues. The assumption was that the elements of rapport-building behaviors are observable as the group encourages their preferred candidate to manifest leadership behaviors. The three sample groups were volunteer construction and healthcare teams working in Central America and Mexico. Three field studies of small groups were observed as they worked in foreign environments which challenged not only the task behavior of the group but also relational behaviors. The analyzed data supported both propositions. The nonverbal behaviors which correlated most successfully with identifying the person of influence in an interaction were identified. Smiling and proxemics were documented as the dominant nonverbal cues by the observers. When the observers themselves responded to the question regarding their awareness of nonverbal cues personally received, most were unable to recall incidents of being cognitively aware. This response led to exploring the actual experiences of leaders perceiving and acting upon the nonverbal signals they received from small groups. For leaders in action, the data suggest that the most important cues for their leadership behavior are eye action and proximity.
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