It is Good to be King! (Or is it?)

Practical Applications for Nonverbal Intelligence and the State of Stress and Discomfort in Leaders

By David M. Schneer, Ph.D./CEO

3-Minute Read

Some believe that it is great to be the king of the jungle. And they would have a point. The lionesses do most of the hunting, no one eats until the leader of the pride gets his portion, and he has the pick of the lionesses. That’s all great until he gets old, and the younger, stronger males challenge him, and either kill him or drive him from the pride to wander off and die alone. Now that’s a bummer!

Even as kings of their respective jungles, leaders are subject to bad days and trying times. How can you tell? Well, it’s written all over their faces—despite the words that come out of their mouths. Suffice it to say, it is clear when a lion is stressed. But while human leaders may appear to project strength, fearlessness, or resolve on the surface, their facial expressions (and their bodies) can often reveal their true emotions.

Let’s look at some well-known US politicians.  What do their facial expressions have to tell us? Take California Governor, Gavin Newsom, for example. He has a telegenic presence in this image from happier times.

But then the wheels came off the wagon. A public relations pandemic gaff at the French Laundry restaurant followed by a recall election turned the Governor’s face a little sour. Notice the pressed lips. This is an indication of stress, dislike, or both.  

But check out the Governor’s forehead below. The ridges running a stacked parallel pattern on his forehead are called the Glabella. Often mistakenly referred to as the “grief” muscle, they are likely to furrow when something is amiss. Some people will also “knit” (Navarro 2015, p. 13) their brow when they hear something untoward or are striving for comprehension. While the still photos below capture the actual furrow instance, this reaction can occur very fast, it is universal to all humans, and is generally a very reliable indicator of emotions (Navarro 2018, p. 31).

Newsom survived his turmoil.

Former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, not so much. Notice the same indications of stress or dislike via the rumpled Glabella and pressed lips.

The point is, we all show these signs.

When you see pressed lips and a furrowed forehead it is a reliable sign that there is an issue.

Even on the faces of leaders. And apparently on lions too.

Most Communication is Nonverbal. Are You Fluent?



Navarro, Joe, and Marvin Karlins. Essay. In What Every BODY Is Saying: an Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People. New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2015. Navarro, Joe, The Dictionary of Body Language.  New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2018