A Lesson in Leadership from Growing a Beard?

I’m hitting a milestone birthday this month, and I’m having a hard time with it. 

Over the past several months I’ve found myself doing all the things I encourage people not to do — looking back and ruminating on my mistakes, looking ahead and worrying if I’ll achieve my goals with this chapter of my career.

Ugh. Enough. Something had to change. Through some self-reflection and coaching from trusted advisors, I’m feeling better about the big five oh. I decided this milestone is an opportunity for me, one that is making me get clear on doing the things I want to do that I’ve put aside for whatever reason.

Some of those things are big things. And some are small. One tiny one is that I have never seen myself in a beard and wanted to see what that looks like. So, with the guidance of my trusted barber Steve, I’m growing it out. I’m under strict rules though — I can’t touch it with the exception of cleaning up the neckline for 5 weeks. Then he’s going to help me shape it and I’ll decide if it’s a keeper or not.

What I did not expect from this small change is the wide variety of reactions from people about it, and about me. Here’s what I’ve heard:

  • So, you’re trying to grow a beard, huh? (The tone of this comment was, “Michael, it’s not working for you.”)
  • I like you in a beard! You seem more relaxed. (This made me laugh. I guess I show up tense most times? Hmmm. Yeah, probably true.)
  • Love the beard. You look hot. 🔥 (This one was a text, which made me blush.)
  • Are you going to shave before your big meeting tomorrow? (Translation: “You should shave before your meeting tomorrow.”)
  • So, what do you think of the beard? (This one was said to a friend with me in ear shot. It was clear they thought I should shave.)
  • The beard makes you look older. (Thank you, I think?)
  • A beard! Wow, never saw you in one. I really like it on you. (Big smile.)
  • You look so different. I like it. (Nice…. But wait, did I not look good before?😉)

And many more…. 

As someone who’s been self-conscious about his looks for his entire life (this comes from my lazy eye and the fact that I was regularly ridiculed for it to the point that I still feel insecure about it when I see photos of myself) it has fascinated me how the beard has affected how people perceive or view me. 

Here are 2 lessons and reminders from my beard-growing experience: 

  1. Patience: Growing a beard takes time and patience, just like your leadership journey. Results don’t happen overnight, and growth always requires consistent effort over a sustained period.
  2. Perception: How a leader appears and communicates will influence how others perceive their leadership abilities. It’s important to be aware of how you come across to others — and work to manage perceptions.

And remember, you’ll never manage perceptions completely and you need to do it in a way that aligns with your goals and values.

Bottom line here is that you have the power to influence, but the only person you can control  — is you.

When I see you after April 6, you’ll know if the beard is staying or going.

What do you think? Keep it or ditch it?


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