In the game of poker, a “tell” is when a player gives away their feelings or emotion about the cards they hold. Typically this is done subconsciously, but if done consistently, may be used against them by other players. For example, if one player leans backward every time they get a bad hand, other players at the table know to raise the stakes every time that individual leans back in their chair. In leadership, you should also be careful of a tell – though hopefully for another reason.
Why a Tell is Bad for Leadership
For leaders, having a tell can result in missed opportunities, a lack of trust or other detrimental impacts to the team. For example, if the team perceives you are opposed to an idea before you hear the details, you may never hear the full explanation. In other examples, a leader perceived as revealing a tell regarding potential organizational changes or legal matters yet to be decided, could result in rampant rumors or worse.
The Blackberry Leadership Tell
I once worked for an executive who was famous for looking down at her blackberry whenever she did not like what she was hearing. It seemed everyone knew this. So, if someone had a great idea, but saw her look down at the blackberry, they would immediately drop the topic and suggest an alternative. This would often resume until the blackberry was set back on the table. I wonder how many great ideas were missed because she had to respond to an urgent email.