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This week presented me with several opportunities to hear from and speak with many incredible people such as Admiral Mike Giorgioni, Linda Verba, and many Penn State College of Education Alumni. In meeting with each of these people I was able to gain a wealth of wisdom, career advice, knowledge, and encouragement. As I look back on each of these interactions there is one underlying theme that I have noticed and have carried with me. It isn’t anything that I didn’t know before, but something that I really never thought of the large impact that it could have. I was reminded of the importance and power of a genuine smile.

On Friday afternoon I was able to meet with College of Education Alumnus Linda Verba, who in recent years has been named one of the Top 25 Most Powerful Women in Banking, to hear about her journey from an Elementary Education Major at Penn State to one of the top women in the world of banking. Linda has revolutionized the world of customer service at TD Bank and attributes it to her understanding of how to work with second graders, who she says function in many of the same ways as CEOs in major companies! Linda commented in our talk that you need a strong handshake to go far, something I also heard from Mike Giorgioni, but she added another dimension to this idea of a greeting. She said that the first thing she noticed when walking in the room to meet with us was that we all had great smiles, and that they would take us far. To Linda her job was about people, and the best way to connect with people is through that first genuine smile.

Later on that evening I was able to meet with several Donors and Alumni to the College of Education and specifically had the opportunity to sit down and talk with a former math teacher who received her certification from Penn State. At the end of our talk she said that she knew I would make for a good math teacher because I was enthusiastic and that I had a great smile that would be inviting, infectious, and inspiring to my future students.

I was fascinated by the impact that something so simple and natural as giving a genuine smile to someone could have, although I can’t say that I was that surprised, it just makes sense! I wanted to know more about why a smile could have such an impact so I decided to follow it up. I found an article, The Untapped Power of Smiling, which summarizes several studies conducted by Ron Gutman on the power that a smile can have. This article talked about many ways that a smile can have an influence many related to predicting lifespan and success, but I was more interested in the impact that a smile can have on other people. It is in our nature to smile, in fact we are born smiling, and our smiles are contagious, it has been proven that when we see someone smile it is a challenge for us not to smile in return. It is also proven that smiles help us to connect to people and that it allows us to judge how genuine other people are. However, a smile also has an impact on our careers, just as Linda mentioned. In a recent study conducted by Penn State, it was shown that when we smile we are perceived as likeable, courteous, and more competent.

Thinking back to our time with Mike Giorgioni although he did not explicitly say anything about smiling, it was there implicitly in his talk as well as in his 21 Leadership Secrets of Success. Mike talked about how leadership is about connecting with people both intellectually and emotionally. This emotional connection can come in many ways, but it can all start by simply giving everyone, including those you are leading, a big old genuine smile. I think Mother Teresa summed it up well when she said,

“Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.”