Masked, I advance -Rene Descartes
I partner with Senior Leaders every day in further developing their emotional intelligence. I work with them to understand and manage their own emotions, as well as recognize and influence the emotions of those around them. As you can imagine, the discussion around controlling emotional responses comes up frequently. This week, when discussing some feedback with a client concerning his direct reports misreading his facial expressions, he jokingly said, “Maybe if I had the Mask of Zorro things would be a whole lot easier.”
I am not implying that leaders should mask their emotions completely or do anything disingenuous. It can be a helpful strategy, however, for leaders to adopt a visual persona they can bring to mind quickly and emulate under stress. Here are some masks that can help leaders manage facial expressions when they threaten to interfere with accurate communication.
Are you someone that frowns when you are thinking deeply?
Perhaps the Mask of Zorro is a good image. Think kind, clear eye contact, barely discernable smile but enough to communicate presence.
I was looking for the sense of the miraculous in everyday life. –The Mask of Zorro Movie
Are you animated when you describe things regardless of the subject or the audience?
The Mona Lisa mask will work well here to help you tone things down. Focus on a relaxed brow and a slight tilt of the mouth in the direction of a smile. Keep an upright and commanding but unthreatening posture.
Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication -Leonardo da Vinci quote about Mona Lisa
Are you an introvert that needs to process your thoughts while looking aloof?
Barack Obama is known for his relaxed, engaged expression that communicates he is present while still maintaining composure. Try it!
Yes we can. -Barack Obama
Do you smile ear to ear even when you are delivering an uncomfortable message?
My mask of choice is Jackie Kennedy. Why not? It is a game, so I am shooting for the stars. On a serious note, I grew up watching her do a masterful job of speaking and listening with clarity and grace that was always appropriate for the situation. If you have a pair of her famous glasses, best to leave them at home as they may send the wrong message to your colleagues in a meeting.
I want minimum information given with maximum politeness. -Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
Think of plucking the mask and quickly putting it on as a way of buying yourself time, counting to 10, or letting a call go to voicemail. This is not “checking out” but rather just the opposite. It is a demonstration of your ability to recognize and control your emotions in a playful and effective way. This will allow you time to identify and understand your emotions and act accordingly in a way that builds strong relationships.
Facial expressions give so much away and can so easily misrepresent you. It is hard to remember at the precise moment you walk into a meeting, or someone unexpectedly interrupts you, or there is a crisis to manage. A closet full of masks can make you smile internally just thinking about which one to choose. This inner smile will neutralize your expression long enough to chart a course while communicating you are present and engaged. You won’t miss a step.
As Descartes said, “Masked, I advance.” Not only will you advance as your emotional intelligence deepens, but you will also manage relationships in a way that elevates everyone around you, and that is where leading becomes transformational.
So, who will you be this Halloween? Is there anyone else you would add to the mask collection?