These three NBA legends headline the newest class of superstars now in the league’s Hall of Fame. In terms of their accomplishments, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, and Kevin Garnett need no introductions. But what are their signature expressions, which can provide a deeper sense of who they were as players? Bryant nicknamed himself the Black Mamba, the code name for the deadly assassin in Quentin Tarantino’s 2003 movie “Kill Bill.” And true to form, if I had to choose an expression that best defines Bryant as a player, it’s when his eyebrows would lower (and his eyes narrow) in anger as he focused on his next jump shot, ball-steal, or bullet pass. In Duncan’s case, his eyes would go wide and eyebrows lift as he took in information, sizing up the court and an opponent, often with a wry, half-smile. That look best defines a player so consistently stoical and coachable. As to Garnett, this photo is at best a half-truth. Yes, Garnett could burst into one of the biggest smiles on the planet, with the muscle around the eyes simultaneously tightening to create eyes that gleamed with elation. But mostly, the guy was a fierce competitor. The opposite of Duncan, with Garnett the emoting was all-out: mostly happiness or anger – along with at times a look of huge, feigned surprise (mouth agape) for being called for a foul.
All NBA head coaches would have loved to have any of these three players on their team. But what if you’re a manager or small-business owner hiring a new employee after we dig out of the current crisis? What should you be looking for emotionally in somebody you might add to your team? First, understand that for most people happiness (to hug) and anger (to hit) constitute about 70% of their emoting. An employee’s delight in winning and determination to succeed are worthy signposts. A smile can indicate openness to collaborating, just as compressed facial muscles can indicate the constructive drive required to push through barriers – so long as the anger is properly proportioned and wisely targeted.
Years ago (as a small business owner myself), I received in the mail one day a HR workshop flier that showcased 11 types of employees you would rather not have on staff. They were office worker caricatures of who would go into the opposite of a Hall of Fame. One was angry: the rude Antagonist type. One was sad: the Whiner type. One was contemptuous: the Insubordinate Subordinate. But of the other eight types, actually the single greatest shortcoming evident, emotionally speaking, was basic indifference. These are the disengaged workers, those who don’t emote much and aren’t motivated. The flier had the Tortoise, the Thumb-Twiddler, the Early Retiree, and the Clock-Watcher all on display. Now, none of this is to excuse the need for bosses to pitch in and be emotionally literate themselves as well as good detectives when it comes to observing human nature. Remember: that as is true of Bryant, Duncan, and Garnett, the way a person emotes is a good clue as to how they’re wired or if there’s a fatal disconnect lurking somewhere.