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Grumpy Faced Leadership


Susan here. 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, I am the type of person that you can actually count on 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 clients to get Botox or work harder to smile. I have to admit, 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.

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. However, 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. See, the face may, and often does, look about the same for any of those emotions, especially if I am busy, deeply thinking, or intently listening.

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 present a sound argument for my position. I actually enjoy a debate, and will frequently take the opposing view.

What people may not know is that I often expand my viewpoint, and include valuable pieces of 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. This is an area I could develop, sharing the impact that others’ opinions have on me.

My assumption, erroneous as it may be, is that folks will know that if I am engaging in an intense, passionate debate, I respect their views. Otherwise, I wouldn’t bother to engage. However, I have learned that this behavior and its intention isn’t always transparent, or acceptable, especially as a woman leader.

It seems people prefer woman leaders to ask questions and gather input from others before speaking up. Sorry, that’s not me. I have tried the style. It isn’t natural to me. 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.” I empathize with you. It’s not easy presenting as strong and intimidating. I don’t know about you, but sometimes my insides are quite the opposite. However, I don’t find it easy to say “Ouch!” or “I’m scared.”

I have to let you know that some of my current affect comes from years of developing a style that keeps people away. Yes, 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. Plus, as a leader, it’s not necessarily in my best interest, or my team’s, to explain my history.

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

Leadership means finding a way to bridge my grumpy-face gap, and making sure that my intensity and strong views don’t silence others.

Sometimes, I wish I was a visibly softer person, but 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 grumpy-face-gap and learn to embrace their grumpy-face style!


CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke

Coaches, Business Consultants, Speakers and Authors of The Beauty of Conflict

CrisMarie and Susan work leaders and teams, couples in business, and professional women.

They help turnaround dysfunctional teams into high performing, cohesive teams who trust each other, deal with differences directly, and have clarity and alignment on their business strategy so they create great results.

Check out their website: www.thriveinc.com. Connect with CrisMarie and Susan on LinkedIn. Watch their TEDx Talk: Conflict – Use It, Don’t Defuse It! Find your copy of The Beauty of Conflict: Harnessing Your Team's Competitive Advantage here.



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