Being a Grumpy-Faced Leader

Now this was a 'happy' face - and the brow still stands out!
This is a my happy face!

I have this face that apparently is incredibly transparent – or, at least, easy to read as angry, tight or intimidating.

I often get feedback that I seem annoyed or angry. It’s odd, because when I check inside, that usually isn’t what I am feeling. Don’t get me wrong. I can feel angry and annoyed, but generally, when I do…I will say something. In fact, you can actually count on me to tell you when I am angry or annoyed with you.

It’s been a challenge as a leader to deal effectively with this face. I have avoided taking the suggestions from a few folks to get Botox or work harder to be kind. I actually did look into the Botox, but after a bit of research, and the temporary nature of the results, I decided to simply live with the kickback of this face of mine.

The advise to work harder to be kind, though annoying in its assumption that I am not, was curious to me.  How does one jump from the assumption of grumpy-face to unkind person.

Honestly, I have found smiling, outwardly happy people some of the most unkind and judgmental people I know. So neither smiles nor a wrinkled brow seem to be an effective measure for kindness.

Back, though, to this leadership issue. Is it my role as a leader to have a kind friendly face?

If so, it is a strange measure of leadership. I do believe I need to learn to appreciate that my face can be a barrier to building strong relationships. As a result, I now give folks a heads up about the brow, and ask them to check in with me if they are imagining me to be happy, glad, sad or mad. The face may, and does, look about the same (see above photo) for any of those emotions especially if I am busy, deeply thinking, or intently listening. BTW, the photo was taken in a very happy moment for me. Surprised?

As for being intimidating, I can imagine that as a woman who often has a strong opinion, and tends to counter the majority view, I could be intimidating. When I am passionate about an idea, I am fairly intense and usually have collected a sound argument for my position. I actually enjoy a debate, and will frequently take in the opposing view.

What people may not know, is that I often expand my view and include valuable pieces of that information from others, after the conversation.  However, those left behind may or may not be aware of the significant influence they have had on me.

I have this assumption that folks will know that if I am passionate and engaging in a debate, I respect their views. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have bothered to do the research and come prepared. I have learned that this style isn’t always acceptable – especially as a woman leader.

It seems people prefer woman leaders to ask questions and gather input from others before speaking up. That’s not me. I have tried the style, it isn’t natural. Though, I can and do use it at times.

I wish a strong opinion wasn’t interpreted as a signal for lack of curiosity and genuine interest. I am actually very interested and intrigued when I am engaged with someone who will meet me at that contact point.

I imagine there are other grumpy-faced leaders out there. I also imagine there are others who are “too passionate” and/or “too persuasive.” It’s not easy presenting as strong and intimidating. Sometimes my insides are quite the opposite. However, I don’t find it easy to say “Ouch!” or “I’m scared.”

I have to admit, some of that comes from years of developing a style that keeps people away. It was helpful for some periods of my life. Now, it’s not really needed, but the scars and the wrinkles are not easy to erase. I’m also not sure as a leader, it’s in my best interest or my team’s to explain the history. I’m not afraid of that anymore, it just doesn’t seem that relevant.

Still, I do wonder if I cried easier or smiled more would I be a better leader….I doubt it.

Leadership isn’t about getting people to like my face or me. It is though, about not letting the distance my face or style may create, get in the way of building strong relationships that don’t get stopped on the surface or because of style differences.

Leadership means finding a way to bridge my grumpy-face gap, and make sure that my strong views don’t silence others. Sometimes, I wish I was a softer, nicer person, and maybe I am, it’s just not my going-in position.

If you are a grumpy-faced leader, or struggle with a style that gets you into trouble, I would love to hear from you.  I think my coaching niche might be helping grumpy-faced leaders bridge the gap and learn to embrace their grumpy-face style!




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