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What Leaders are Learning

Leaders Don't Wear Masks

Leaders Don't Wear Masks

Leadership Spokane is committed to the truism that leaders always learn. This week, many families will celebrate Halloween trick or treating in their neighborhoods. Halloween is a holiday that has changed little since my younger years when I went trick or treating as a headless horseman or one year as the grim repaper complete with scythe. Kids and adults alike still wear masks today at parties. Real mask do two things for us. First, they provide anonymity, giving us confidence if our self-confidence is lacking or allow us to be someone we wish to be. Second, they give anonymity for those who wish it. For example, Guy Fawkes’ masks are seen more and more in many of our recent civil unrest uprisings national. Fawkes, a British folklore hero, was popularized in a recent Hollywood movie and has become a symbol of civil disobedience plus the masks keeps protestors’ identities secret. Beyond the traditional Halloween mask, as leaders, we should remember that we all figuratively wear masks in our day to day life as well.

Tina Williamson in her July 2015 blog “5 Masks We Wear and Why We Should Take Them Off” defines the type of masks that we wear outside of Halloween. Some wear the ‘positive’ persona mask, others the ‘strong’ persona mask, some the ‘intellectual’ persona, some the ‘nice’ mask and a few the ‘grumpy’ mask. She writes: “This epic [mask] performance is a huge drain on our minds, bodies and souls. It’s a hard act to constantly pretend to be, or feel like you need to be, someone else. Similarly, it’s very draining to regularly act like you feel one way when you really feel another. Becoming authentic is a process to begin knowing ourselves. To understand our own personality traits, behaviors, values, beliefs, needs, goals and motives. It’s having the courage to acknowledge our limitations, and embrace our own vulnerability.”

My leadership highlight is that leaders need to resist wearing masks because authenticity will always be their biggest strength. I will leave it to Dr. Phil to speak to why we as individuals wear masks. Leaders though must find it within themselves to be themselves…this is one of the costs to wearing the label “leader.” Sonja McDonald writes in a Dec 2014 blog “Why Leaders Must Be Authentic” that authentic leaders “are true to themselves and their own set of beliefs. They are both motivated by and act on their own personal convictions. This personal truth is the backbone of a great leader as they show strength in their integrity. Quite simply they are who they say they are.” In being authentic, leaders build trust with their followers, which is a cardinal leadership trait. McDonald writes: “Balanced, authentic leadership has a positive effect on those that follow. Trust is developed between the two positions helping to build confidence and optimism in a given environment. Individuals and groups tend to respond well to authentic leaders generally going over and above what is expected of them and enjoying a happy and more positive work environment.”

Oprah Winfrey has similarly opined: “I had no idea that being your authentic self could make me as rich as I’ve become. If I had, I’d have done it a lot earlier.” In social situations, it is natural to portray an image we want to display. But at work and other leadership situations, our followers will see our real personas. Being real from the get go is what leaders owe their followers. Halloween is a festive day that I enjoy today as much as I enjoyed as a youth. While I don’t wear real masks anymore, I am reminded every Halloween that leaders need to show their true face. Leaders shouldn’t wear masks…

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” — Kurt Vonnegut