Monday, November 22, 2010

Leadership Secret # 22:
Inspiring Confidence vs. Looking Vulnerable

William Reilly, the co-chair of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, looks on during preliminary a hearing regarding BP's Macondo well accident-blowout. This photo was taken in Washington, D.C. on November 8, 2010. 

The gesture adopted here by Mr. Reilly is an interesting one considering he is in a government appointed position of investigation. While we don't know what Mr. Reilly was thinking at the moment of this photo (he could have just remembered that he forgot to pay his mortgage or that he was hearing some gruesome testimony detailing the tragic deaths of the workers who perished in the accident) this particular "Praying with Mouth Covering" gesture/expression is only seen when there is significant emotional involvement and is consistent with worry or concern.  It is not a gesture that displays nor does it inspire confidence - thus it is rarely seen in experienced leaders.

If you've ever watched a rescue live or even on T.V., you'll commonly see the "Praying with Mouth Covering" signal adopted by those around you. I saw this displayed during the events of Sept. 11, 2001 and more recently with the rescue of the Chilean Mine workers. It can be also be seen in every close sporting event if you look in the faces of some of the spectators. Below is the sister of Helio Castroneves, Katiucia, as she watches her brother in the final laps of the Indy 500 on May 24, 2009. Moments later he won the race.

So when you see anyone adopting this gesture, you can be sure there is great emotional involvement and empathy. Although empathy is a crucial quality of all good leaders, it is important if you're in a position of leadership, to keep this body language signal to an absolute minimum since it does not display, nor does it inspire confidence.