Several years ago, when I was the CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, I was presiding over our monthly business review meeting. One by one, each of our divisional managers would appear before the executive team and review their operating results for the previous month.
At the first break, one of my business consultants who was attending pulled me aside.
“Are you angry at someone?”
“No,” I said, somewhat surprised.
“You sure?” she pressed.
“Absolutely,” I insisted.
“Then you might want to let your face know, because it looks like you are are ticked off! It’s intimidating and shutting people down.”
I had no idea I was doing this. (I also loved the fact that she was willing to be so direct with me!)
Fast forward two years. My booking agent, Brian Scheer, told me that I don’t smile enough when speaking from stage.
Really? I thought. That can’t be right. I’m sure I smile plenty.
Then I reviewed some of my video footage. Sure enough, Brian was right. I didn’t smile enough. In fact, I was shocked at how little I smiled.
He said, “You smile a lot in real life, but something happens when you step on stage. You get … well … intense.
So for the past two years I have been working hard to smile more, both in real life and on stage. It hasn’t been easy. I have had to work hard at being more aware.
When I am speaking, Brian often stands in the back of the room, prompting me. If I am not smiling, he smiles big and points to the corners of his mouth. I am the only one who can see him, but it has helped immensely.
Though I still have a ways to go, in reviewing my most recent videos, I can see I have made substantial improvement. My goal is to make it my default—an unconscious behavior.
This experience has made me realize how important smiling is to leadership. It can really does help us better achieve the outcomes we seek. It is important for at least five reasons.
- It helps others relax. When you scowl or look too intense, it creates a primal reaction in others. Their defenses go up. They become protective and guarded.This is the exact opposite of what you want to happen if you are trying to influence them. A smile communicates that you are safe and can be trusted.
- It draws people to you. Have you ever noticed how you are attracted to people who smile and laugh a lot? The positive energy is contagious. You instinctively smile in response.The simple fact is that people naturally want to be around people who are happy. If you want others to follow you, you can start by smiling more.
- It enables you to connect. Smiling is one of the best, quickest ways to connect with anyone from any culture. Even if you don’t speak the same language, a smile is universally appreciated.It opens the door, welcomes people into your world, and communicates acceptance. Even if people are frustrated or angry, a smile can often turn them around. In that moment you forge a connection.
- It creates positive culture. If you want to change the culture of an organization, change the behavior of its leaders. People naturally play “follow the leader.” When leaders smile, everyone smiles.Smiles communicate that your organization is a happy place to work. And who doesn’t want to work where people are smiling and happy?
- It elevates your mood. This is one of the surprising benefits of smiling. I had no idea. It literally affects you at a biological level, releasing endorphins and serotonins.Smiling has numerous physical and psychological benefits, including relieving stress, lowering your blood pressure, and boosting your immune system. And it’s much cheaper and healthier than drugs.
Seriously, set a goal to smile more this year. Recruit an accountability partner. Set reminders. Whatever it takes. As a leader, it will help ensure you have a positive impact on the people you are leading.