What Does Your Face Say about Your Leadership?

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“A picture is worth a thousand words.” We’ve all heard that.

But what about the face you present to your colleagues or a potential group of investors? It matters, too.

Leadership is not just how we communicate ourselves verbally, but visually. As a leader, your facial expressions can set, or erode, a tone of trust.

Even the NBA agrees that faces matter when it comes to leadership.

A recent New York Times article revealed the Milwaukee Bucks hired a facial coding expert in preparation for the 2014 draft to “determine if [prospective players] have the right emotional attributes” to make a winning team. Bucks coaches and managers spent time analyzing the skill and technique of prospective players; and yet, the toughest draft decisions were made through results of facial coding analysis.

The Times compared top prospects, Dante Exum and Jabari Parker. After video analysis of facial expressions, the Bucks selected Parker based on his potential for “emotional resiliency, stability, and immediate, assured presence.”

Lo and behold, before Parker’s 2014 season was cut short by a knee injury in mid-December, he significantly outperformed Exum. Parker had been averaging 12.3 points per game; Exum, only 4.9.

But the news that non-verbal cues matter isn’t anything new.

Facial expressions – in fact, all visual aspects of your presentation as we’ve blogged about before – are a critical piece of building credibility.

In fact, this HBR article states that warmth – best communicated through facial expression – is the first step to building trust. The article concludes, “Before people decide what they think of your message, they decide what they think of you.”

The next time you lead a meeting or make a pitch, try these tips to remember your facial expressions:

  • Lighten up your face is the simplest way to add warmth. And for many of us, it’s not the easiest shift to make. But it’s worth it. Lightening up your face projects confidence and warmth, and it helps you exude competence. It will becomes contagious.
  • Start your presentation with a SHARP by using an anecdote that makes you lighten up or laugh.
  • Connect with your eyes. Eye communication is essential, but it’s much harder to do when you’re speaking to a group. Hone in on each listener for a good 5 seconds. Your audience will feel that warmth and connection.
  • Add Affect. Show how you feel! Forget about your mouth for a minute and consider your eyebrows. Just raising your eyebrows can show emotion, show empathy and show that you’re listening. Do you agree, or do you disagree? Save that poker face for poker night – and let your face show how you feel.

How important do you think “saving face” is?

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