5 Reasons You Should Smile More as a Leader

Several years ago, when I was the CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, I was presiding over our monthly business review meeting. One by one, each of our divisional managers would appear before the executive team and review their operating results for the previous month.

Smiling Leader

Photo courtesy of ShutterStock.com/Charlotte Purdy

At the first break, one of my business consultants who was attending pulled me aside.

“Are you angry at someone?”

“No,” I said, somewhat surprised.

“You sure?” she pressed.

“Absolutely,” I insisted.

“Then you might want to let your face know, because it looks like you are are ticked off! It’s intimidating and shutting people down.”

I had no idea I was doing this. (I also loved the fact that she was willing to be so direct with me!)

Fast forward two years. My booking agent, Brian Scheer, told me that I don’t smile enough when speaking from stage.

Really? I thought. That can’t be right. I’m sure I smile plenty.

Then I reviewed some of my video footage. Sure enough, Brian was right. I didn’t smile enough. In fact, I was shocked at how little I smiled.

He said, “You smile a lot in real life, but something happens when you step on stage. You get … well … intense.

So for the past two years I have been working hard to smile more, both in real life and on stage. It hasn’t been easy. I have had to work hard at being more aware.

When I am speaking, Brian often stands in the back of the room, prompting me. If I am not smiling, he smiles big and points to the corners of his mouth. I am the only one who can see him, but it has helped immensely.

Though I still have a ways to go, in reviewing my most recent videos, I can see I have made substantial improvement. My goal is to make it my default—an unconscious behavior.

This experience has made me realize how important smiling is to leadership. It can really does help us better achieve the outcomes we seek. It is important for at least five reasons.

  1. It helps others relax. When you scowl or look too intense, it creates a primal reaction in others. Their defenses go up. They become protective and guarded.

    This is the exact opposite of what you want to happen if you are trying to influence them. A smile communicates that you are safe and can be trusted.

  2. It draws people to you. Have you ever noticed how you are attracted to people who smile and laugh a lot? The positive energy is contagious. You instinctively smile in response.

    The simple fact is that people naturally want to be around people who are happy. If you want others to follow you, you can start by smiling more.

  3. It enables you to connect. Smiling is one of the best, quickest ways to connect with anyone from any culture. Even if you don’t speak the same language, a smile is universally appreciated.

    It opens the door, welcomes people into your world, and communicates acceptance. Even if people are frustrated or angry, a smile can often turn them around. In that moment you forge a connection.

  4. It creates positive culture. If you want to change the culture of an organization, change the behavior of its leaders. People naturally play “follow the leader.” When leaders smile, everyone smiles.

    Smiles communicate that your organization is a happy place to work. And who doesn’t want to work where people are smiling and happy?

  5. It elevates your mood. This is one of the surprising benefits of smiling. I had no idea. It literally affects you at a biological level, releasing endorphins and serotonins.

    Smiling has numerous physical and psychological benefits, including relieving stress, lowering your blood pressure, and boosting your immune system. And it’s much cheaper and healthier than drugs.

Seriously, set a goal to smile more this year. Recruit an accountability partner. Set reminders. Whatever it takes. As a leader, it will help ensure you have a positive impact on the people you are leading.

Question: Are you smiling enough as a leader? What can you do to improve? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • http://www.struggletovictory.com/ Kari Scare

    Smiling is definitely a struggle for my introverted self. I an get so locked into my own thought world that I forget to let others in. My kids like to joke about the crease in my forehead that could hold a pencil, which shows up even more when I am in deep thought but that significantly lessens when I smile. So many times, I thought people just didn’t like me, and that’s why they kept their distance. I’m realizing now that it’s because I don’t welcome them with my facial expressions, which begins with a smile. Working on it! So, hard when it’s not your natural tendency, but I realize it’s not about me, it’s about others and the impact I can and should have as a leader. I just can’t get to where I should be without smiling; it’s like a gateway to my leadership potential.

  • Beth Wingate

    I write a big “SMILE” every few pages on my speaking notes for meetings, classes, and presentations – definitely helps!

  • Beth Wingate

    I write a big “SMILE” every few pages on my speaking notes for meetings, classes, and presentations – definitely helps!

  • Ed Underwood

    I hate this post. I love this post. I need this post. I … thanks

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Smile. It’s all good. ;-)

  • Don Shrumm

    Can’t believe it has taken me so long to learn this! same thing with feedback from wife who thought I looked angry when preaching one morning!

  • Eric Pulsifer

    Michael, this is good. But as I read your post, something came to mind. Even if someone can’t see the smile, he can “hear” it. Yeah, another phone story to follow:

    Years ago my Mom taught an employee proper phone manner and she noticed the person sounded gruff, even inapproachable on the phone. Mom finally put a mirror by the phone with some new instructions. When the phone rings, smile before answering.

    Sounds dumb, but you know what? It really works. The smile does come through in a person’s voice and attitude. I’ve led via phone and two-way radio, and found a good smile does create a happier work environment and help staff chemistry. The customers also notice the difference, even when no one sees my facial expressions.

    Chasing this squirrel even further, here’s another thought: I wonder if the idea of smiling holds true with written communications? Pure guesswork, but I’ll put my money on yes.

  • KevinIvey

    Michael, if you smile TOO much, do you run the risk of not being taken seriously or you lack ‘gravitas’? If so, then what’s too much??

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      I am not suggesting you walk around with a permanent smile on your face. Most of us couldn’t do that if we wanted to. I’m just recommending that you smile more. I have yet to meet a leader who smiles too much. Thanks.

      • KevinIvey

        Agree wholeheartedly-thanks

  • http://milostopic.com Milos

    Leader of not, we should all relax a bit, smile and enjoy life. Great reasons btw.

  • Jeremy


    Great read! I completely agree with you here. I work in a high school setting as an administrator with around 1200 students and over 100 faculty and staff, and I make it a point to smile in all of my interactions with them. It is a contagious process as more often than not, when the interaction takes place, they smile in return. One of my highest values is influencing others around me to be happy, and smiling is definitely a tool that I use to make this happen.

    Snap! I’m smiling right now as I’m writing this comment!

    Glad I found your site! I am looking forward to reading more!



  • Akash Agarwal

    Wow! It’s great topic. There has lot of things to learn. I will definitely follow this blog to smile more. Thanks for sharing.