Work inspiration

Positive leadership skills: Never underestimate the power of a smile

- October 10, 2022 4 MIN READ
Man smiling and waving to woman on the street

Victor Perton, COO of The Centre for Optimism and Chair of the Positive Leadership Taskforce, says the first step in building positive and optimistic leadership skills that trickle down to your workmates and employees, is to never underestimate the power of a smile.

“We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do,” said Saint Mother Teresa.

Smile! Smile at every person you meet and pass today. Smile at yourself in the mirror.

Is happiness the underpinning of optimism, or is optimism an underpinning of happiness? It doesn’t matter – we know happier people tend to be more optimistic. And we know optimistic people tend to be happier.

Never underestimate the power of a smile

We know that smiling stimulates brain patterns that reinforce feelings of happiness and optimism. Moreover, smiling does so in a way that even chocolate can not match.

Australian happiness researcher, Dr Marmolejo-Ramos, found, “When you forcefully practise smiling, it stimulates the amygdala – the emotional centre of the brain – which releases neurotransmitters to encourage an emotionally positive state.”

In short: our brain feels good and tells us to smile. We then smile and this tells our brain it feels good … and the cycle goes on!

Are you smiling now? Have you smiled at anyone today?

Frank Sinatra sang, “When you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you.”

happy worker at counter in fashion store

Just smile

Dr David Topor wrote, “A psychotherapy technique to cope with sad feelings is to practice smiling for a few minutes each day. If a full smile is not possible, a half-smile works as well. Notice any impact on your thoughts, mood, and level of optimism.”

Smile at other people; most people light up and return the greeting. Smile at people you vaguely know and greet them. Smile and greet strangers on the street, in elevators and walking down corridors. Some will be on screens or focused ahead of themselves or ignoring people. It’s good practice to keep smiling and share a friendly greeting.

IAG published a study in 2022 showing that 95 per cent of Australians would like to smile at and greet strangers, but most are too shy, or preoccupied with their phones or the sound streaming on their earbuds.

You do it, and you have the superpower of infectious optimism. I greet everyone, and most people greet me and smile back.

Turn smiling into a kindness exercise

The Kindness Diaries star, Leon Logothetis, turned this practice into an exercise. He wrote, “This is a fun exercise that builds your kindness and courage muscles. Be first to smile at someone as you pass them on the street and make eye contact with them. We can get so focused on ourselves and shut the world out, but it doesn’t have to be like that. Instead of waiting for someone to speak to you, take that leap to be the first to say hello, or to smile, or ask them how they are. I promise this will be a game changer for you in your life!”

Smile more in the meetings. Wearing a mask? Smile with your eyes. When you’re on a video conference, check in every now and then to ensure you are smiling.

Ros Ben-Moshe, author of Laughing at Cancer – How to Heal with Love, Laughter and Mindfulness, told me, “Optimism can be found in a heartfelt smile that spreads from one face to another.”

My friend, Prathibha Prahlad, founder of the Delhi International Arts Festival, told me, “One of the simplest rules of optimism – smile. Even though your heart may be sad when you smile, you move energy in a positive direction.”

Positive leadership

The smiling leader is more potent than the frowning leader. As President George W. Bush put it, “It’s hard to be optimistic if you aren’t able to smile. One of the jobs of the President is to create an optimistic vision for the country.”

Business leader Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, identified that strength in his father. He wrote, “I think in every immigrant you’ll find a deep optimism and a deep resilience too. My dad is an intense hard worker. My dad is warm and he teaches an easy smile.”

Even if you are thinking about how you look, the branding expert Hana Guenzl told me, “Make the day a masterpiece. You are never fully dressed without a smile.”

Some easy steps to smile more:

  • Smile the moment you wake up
  • Remind yourself in the morning that you will smile more today
  • Think about a situation or event that brings you joy
  • Practice smiling in the mirror
  • Smile at everyone you see

And, most importantly, become comfortable with smiling and recognise the benefits that smiling brings you.


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Now read this: 

What Queen Elizabeth’s infectiously optimistic leadership has taught us

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