What Does Your Leadership ‘Game Face’ Say?



Guess what:  You’re being watched.  Right now.

Is your “Game Face” on?

That is, are you aware of what the people you lead see under their microscope?

They’re analyzing each detail of your your behavior-looking for clues on how best to respond.

Don’t take it too personally, it’s not just you.  As social animals, that’s what all higher-order primates do.

Anthropologist Lionel Tiger studied the behavioral interactions of baboons as they live in their troop.  Tiger found that the average baboon looks at the leader (the alpha male) about once every 20-30 seconds.

What are they looking for?  Constant direction on how they should behave.

How often does the alpha look at the average baboon?  Not much at all.Sound like another day at the office?

Like that alpha male, you’re in a position of relative power with your team.

They’re checking in frequently to make sense of what’s going on.

They check in even more so when times are hard.Consider the story of Paul.

Paul’s the CFO of a large financial services firm.Paul was telling a group of newly promoted managers about how important it is to “Get your game face on” as a leader.Paul was recounting a story from 2008 Financial Crisis.

A Managing Director at the time, Paul was sitting at a conference table with a team of six executives in the COO’s (let’s call him Stanley) office.

The team was trying to salvage a massive deal.  This was their fourth day of working 16-18 hours/day.

It was now 9:00 pm.  As they’re working, Stanley’s sitting at his desk, keeled over with his head in his hands resting on the desk.

Like the rest of the team, Stanley is flat-out exhausted.  From his prone position, he tells the team how proud he is of them, that they’re making good progress on this deal.

The executive team is excited about the work they’ve done.

The next morning, Paul is approached by two of his team members.  They’ve already been told the bad news from some other employees, and want to know:

When are the layoffs going to start?Paul wonders: What are they talking about?  What layoffs?

It took some time and some detective work for Paul to figure out what had happened.

Stanley’s office had large windows.  All meetings are completely visible from the outside.Some other employees had seen Stanley with his head on his desk the night before. They’d created a whole scenario about what was  going down.  Seeing his head down on the desk, hey’d convinced themselves that the firm was going under.   Panicked, they started spreading the bad news around.

Paul’s learning from that day:

As a leader, your game face is always showing.  Everything you do and say sends a message.  Even if you’re not aware you’re doing or saying it.

Where has your game face created an unintended result?  Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.

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