How you walk into a room full of people may not, at first glance, seem especially important. But have you ever really thought about how you do it? Walk in with a smile on your face, and it can put everyone at ease.
Do the opposite, and the reverse may happen. As they say, your energy introduces you before you even speak. In other words, taking control of that first moment of contact, and the resulting energy it creates in the room, can be a powerful leadership tool.
Academic studies have shown that making yourself smile can actually boost your mood and that a warm smile can help convince other people of your competence. Smiling is also contagious.
Seeing people smile stimulates our mirror neurons (brain cells that react when an animal sees an action performed by another animal), and that suppresses our facial muscle control. In other words, you can’t help smiling. And this creates a positive feedback loop.
If you’re the first person to smile, make a light-hearted comment or break an awkward silence, this can help put others at ease and push the whole group beyond any hurdles. That doesn’t mean you have to be the funniest person in the room. If you’ve watched even one episode of The Office, you’ll know how badly that can backfire. It’s more subtle than that—and, in some ways, easier.
Just because you can’t see energy doesn’t mean it’s not present. We are in charge of what we bring to each and every situation, and the energy a leader brings into a room can have a significant effect on how the meeting or situation is handled.
We’ve all had experiences where a leader’s bad attitude has put everyone in a bad mood from the get-go or, worse still, prevented the situation from being handled as effectively or efficiently as possible. To avoid that kind of bad outcome, it may mean you have to put aside other issues that are drawing you down, leaving them at the door. You can get back to those other issues later, but carrying that energy with you isn’t productive.
Lackluster energy can also derail progress and curtail productivity. Approaching a problem with energy and enthusiasm sets an example for others around you. It has a knock-on effect, generating more action and better results, as well as helping make your colleagues happier.
So walk in with a smile, consider leaning in slightly to a handshake, make eye contact and stay upbeat. Positive energy shows others than you are interested in—and open to—what they have to say. And it may also convince them that you’re worth listening to.
Lindsay LaNore (firstname.lastname@example.org) is ICBA group executive vice president and chief learning and experience officer