By Shannon Waller
Even a strong, skilled leader can send their team into a tailspin of self-doubt — and at worst, fear — just by being unaware of the emotion or lack of it writ large on their face. In the same way, a naturally serious or flat demeanor can wreak havoc on people’s sense of safety and confidence.
A team member can immediately go into panicked guessing mode. “What could be wrong? Did I say something I shouldn’t have? Is something bad happening to the company? What’s going on here? Yikes!”
The Worst-Case Scenario
Have you ever walked out of your office after a particularly troubling conversation with a client, still replaying the conversation in your head and not been aware of anyone around you? You pass one of your team members in the hallway and don’t even hear their cheery “Good morning!” You almost run into another colleague and barely utter an apology.
Because this is not how you usually treat people, and your team members don’t have any context to understand the serious and distracted look on your face, not to mention why you’re actually ignoring them, they immediately think that something is wrong and that it’s going to affect them.
Here’s what they do: First, they will guess and second, they will guess wrong, immediately imagining the direst possibilities.
They think you’re planning to let them go. They’re worried that their jobs are at risk, that the company’s in danger or that you’re going to lose a big client. Some people even take it personally, thinking you’re angry with them for something they can’t begin to figure out.
Bottom line? They’re worried that somehow the security and stability for which they count on you are at risk. This is a real danger that isn’t even on the radar of many business owners and team leaders. We’re oblivious as we retreat into our own heads, into our own little world.
The Naturally Serious Thinker
We can also cause unnecessary fear in our teams because some of us have a more serious thinking face. I know this because I’m one of those people. If I’m unaware of others around me or believe no one can see me, my face looks pretty solemn.
When I say that your team will always guess and guess wrong — that some catastrophe is about to change their lives for the worse — I’m not guessing! I’ve heard fairly dramatic guesses from my team when, in one case, all I was trying to decide was where to hold the next meeting — out of office or in!
The thing we need to remember is that as leaders, it’s important that we don’t set our team members on edge by being unaware of how we’re presenting ourselves. We’re in a position of power, so what we look like matters and how we come across matters.
When you think about it this way, you can see that building your awareness of how you’re coming across to your team is something that deserves your best attention.
The Flat Face
About my serious thinking face, my wonderful mother has given me this advice: “Tell your face.”
Let your face know when you’re happy or sad, when you’re interested or when you’re excited. For those of us who have what psychologists call a flat affect — a face that doesn’t show a lot of expression — gaining awareness and then working to become more animated can be a game changer.
I’m not suggesting that walking around with a fake happy smile all day is the route to go. It definitely isn’t. But I believe emotions are a real and valid part of entrepreneurial life, and giving people around you the opportunity to read your face — and therefore your emotions — puts them on more solid ground. They know where they stand.
When you think about it that way, you can see that building your awareness of how you’re coming across to your team is something that deserves your best attention.
Once I realized that I was a “serious thinker,” when I was intent on a certain result or focused on something important, I became more aware of animating my face. Now I’m more transparent, and I like that because it’s very important to me to be genuine. I value authenticity in myself and in others, so I need to model that.
If I’m worried or stressed out about something that could be concerning to my team and others around me, I’ll try to process it “backstage” because I’m aware that my “front stage” makes a difference and is important to everyone’s well-being.
Transparency Means No Guesswork Necessary
Transparency has great value for companies as well as for individuals. It really does all come down to not making your team guess what the business is up to or what your frame of mind is when they see you around the office.
Being aware of how you’re coming across is a great way for you to stay engaged rather than distracted and to be sure that your team is buying into you as a leader and into your vision for the future.
Your team counts on you for confidence, excitement and stability. The more you’re able to give them that, the better it is for everyone, not to mention the future of your business.