Mona_LisaMona Lisa Smile

Have you ever tried smiling with just the one side of your mouth? I attempted to do so as part of a leadership workshop last week and was surprised to find out what happened.

Before I reveal the punch line, try it yourself: Really smile, with your eyes and everything. Just only use the left side of your mouth.

How did it go?

OK. Now try smiling with the right side of your mouth. Smile with your mouth and with your eyes.


If you’re like me and everyone else I know, you found yourself grimacing more than smiling in the second part of this exercise. For me, the seeming impossibility of cracking a right-sided smile was a true eye-opener about where in our brains our emotions show up. Perhaps it’s no surprise that the Mona Lisa is smiling on… guess which side of her face?

This phenomenon was just one of the many things I learned about last week when I attended a leadership training with the Wright Institute. The training was a total immersion in a sea of topics including emotional intelligence, creating joy, the formation and workings of the human brain, and getting group projects done with the right leadership (note: the link will bring you to an introductory weekend training; the one I attended was a more in-depth week-long retreat).

After the retreat, we were asked to write an essay about the experience in order to cement our learning—something akin to “What I Did on My Summer Vacation.” I’m sharing my essay here. What I learned will inform the way I live my life and conduct my business for years to come. I gained takeaways not just about Mona Lisa smiling tricks but also about what it means to be a leader, share myself, create joy, and, well, be human. My wish is that you see something for yourself in the following words…

What I Learned on Summer Training 2013

At Summer I learned how to show up as a leader. It’s not about what I’ve done. It’s not about my skills as they relate to stuff I can do. It’s not about being liked.

Leadership requires presence. It requires being willing to risk and to correct myself and others. It requires a strong vision and the ability to communicate it powerfully. It requires being incredibly awake! And it requires caring about the people I’m leading more than I care about getting stuff done.


At Summer I learned how to share. It’s not about telling stories or talking about insights. It doesn’t require “getting it” or having “done the homework.” It doesn’t require “knowing” anything.

All it takes to share is to be with my feelings, be with the person I’m with, be with my heart and feel into the hearts of the people around me.


At Summer I learned how to “dedicate” to joy. It’s not about being happy all the time. It’s not easy. It’s not a one-shot deal and there’s no magic pill. Joy is not a phenomenon based on life circumstances.

Dedicating to joy is a responsibility—a big one to the world and the people around me. Joy is a choice, made moment by moment. Joy often looks like hurt, tears and anger fully felt that open into joy. Joy requires opening—over and over. Joy is accessible to us all. It takes practice. 10,000 hours to mastery, as with so many other things. (See Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers)


At Summer I learned that I matter. Not for the things that I do, not for my talents and not for my creativity or my singing voice. I learned that I don’t have to prove that I matter, and that trying to do so is a losing battle, since in that paradigm as soon as I’ve had to prove it I don’t really matter.

I matter because I am. I matter because I have feelings and heart waves that reach out at least 3 feet from my body. Because I am everything that I am. And I learned that these are the things that make other people matter too.


At Summer I learned that the lifelong journey of getting to know myself as a leader and group member has only just begun. Getting to know the people around me (including the intricacies of their left and right side facial muscles) is an integral and fascinating part of that journey. I will continue to explore over the next year, and look forward to taking the next steps forward on Summer Training 2014.


    • To me, it means being highly aware of my surroundings–people and project status included. It means staying calm and thoughtful in a crisis. It means paying attention and feeling emotions while not getting thrown off by them.

Leave a Reply