What Can Art History Teach Procurement Pros About Executive Presence?

Power poses and swagger portraits…


After Karen Morley’s great presentation at last week’s CIPS Australasia conference, I was inspired by her words on how “power poses” can be used to increase your executive presence. Investigation into the topic led me to the authority on this topic, social psychologist Amy Cuddy, whose 2012 Ted Talk entitled “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are” launched awareness of the importance of power poses onto the world stage.

Cuddy talks about how body language, or “non-verbals” govern not only how other people feel about us, but can affect how we think and feel about ourselves. Mirroring behaviour seen in the animal kingdom, humans make themselves bigger and stretch out when they feel powerful, and make themselves smaller by closing up when they feel powerless. Cuddy takes the audience through a range of high-power and low-power poses, including this great pose dubbed “The Wonder Woman”.


Body language is inextricably linked to power dynamics (or power dominance) and is, unsurprisingly, an important part of gender dynamics. Unconfident, shy, “powerless” people can practice high-power poses until they feel more powerful, with the ultimate goal of faking it until you become it.

A Google Image search of “power poses” makes for entertaining viewing. Alongside Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman, there’s Frank Underwood from House of Cards leaning forwards with both palms flat on a table, IMF’s Christine Lagarde physically dominating ex-Greek PM Lucas Papademos at a Euro Conference in Brussels, and Beyonce striking a high-power pose on stage.

Power posing isn’t new. As an art history buff, the concept immediately brought to mind the “swagger portrait”, an artwork commissioned by powerful patrons to emphasis their status and dominance. I wanted to share a few of these historic power poses with you on Procurious so you can learn from some of the greatest swaggerers in history, who were predominantly clustered in the flamboyant 16th century. At the top of this article we have King Louis XIV of France (a la “The Sun King”) who isn’t afraid to awe his detractors into submission with the cut of his stockings. He’s joined by…

Henry VIII (1491 – 1547)

Check out that swagger:


Elizabeth I (1533 – 1603)

Emulating her father’s swagger with an enormous neck ruff and none-too-subtly dominating the entire globe with her right hand:


Richard Sackville, 3rd Earl of Dorset (1589 – 1624)

Proving that shoe pom-poms were back in fashion…


George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland (1558 – 1605)

His lance is longer than yours…


So, if you’re feeling powerless or need a bit of confidence before an important meeting, why not take some inspiration from the 16th century and add a bit of swagger to your power pose.