I was recently coaching a female senior leader who confided in me that when she was asked what has helped to make her so successful and break through the ‘glass ceiling’ she replied with – ‘Smile very little and never wear a cardigan!’ Interesting advice; I generally agree about the cardigan, but I don’t agree about the smile. I often work with senior leaders of both sexes, who seem to believe that smiling indicates a sign of weakness or insignificance. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth!
Smiling is one of the first things we learn as a baby – we even do it in the womb. Smiling is a basic biological expression. Everyone we interact with will be an expert at body language and will know exactly what a smile means. The smile is a fundamental way of breaking down barriers, creating rapport and above all ‘Likeability’. Likeability translates into Believability and ultimately Trust.
I would urge leaders to smile more not less! There are a number of reasons why smiling is a positive activity for the exceptional leader. First of all, smiling makes you feel better – scientists even suggest (and there is a great deal of research to support this thinking) that smiling makes you live longer. Smiling sends ‘feel good’ messages to the brain, which positively affect your mood and decreases stress. Charles Darwin talks about the ‘feedback loop’ where our facial expressions intensify our inner feelings.
Smiling is also contagious – if you smile at someone, it is very difficult for them to frown back. Generally when you smile then people will smile back. It can also make you much more approachable, which is an important attribute for the exceptional leader.
Finally, smiling helps the voice. Try and speak with a lively voice with an unmoving face…it’s impossible! The voice and the face work together. When you use your face – and one of the best ways to make your face work is to smile, then instantly your voice will be more vibrant and interesting.
So get rid of the cardigan all you aspiring female leaders, but don’t ignore the smile – it’s a powerful part of your armoury as a leader…so, smile……please!