Halloween is soon upon us and it got me thinking about costumes, disguises and masks. During Halloween, and really, all year long, these are the things we use to try on other roles for size getting creative about what we might be, obscure our identity, and even cover our emotions in an effort to appear other than we are.
As leaders, we are responsible for a great deal and most of us wear multiple hats and play a variety of roles both in our businesses and in the other parts of our lives. We choose to and even have to wear a mask at times. Call it a defense, call it armor or a way to push through our own fear, insecurity or discomfort, but most of us do it on occasion. It might be a mask we put on of cool detachment when we are negotiating an important deal. Or perhaps it is the mask of calm as we wear in a crisis that is designed to keep others calm and lend an air of stability and security, though we ourselves might be feeling unmoored.
A mask can be both a positive and a negative. Of course leadership often requires us to ‘mask’ our immediate feelings and charge ahead into the unknown. And sometimes, this external composure, even though we might be wavering internally, can help chart a course to smoother waters.
But if the mask is becoming so comfortable that you forget to take it off, you might want to think about where it is useful and where it isn’t. For example, a mask of cool collectedness can be good when seas are rocky but if the boat is literally falling apart and you are cool and collected, your team will think you are just in denial or insane not recognizing things falling apart around you. And when having to let an employee go or make difficult choices in your business, a calm head and some detachment can be useful, but not to the point where people think you are inhuman or indifferent to decisions that are legitimately tough on other people. The mask can be useful but if you wear it so much you feel disconnected from who you really are it’s likely time to rethink your approach.
Some tough times call for a mask and others call for being fully present and even vulnerable. While sometimes it can feel that vulnerability and acknowledging and showing your people that something is hard or uncomfortable or emotional can seem weak, it is also perceived as strength. Bravery is after all not being fearless but about being afraid and doing it anyway. It isn’t the absence of fear but the triumph over it. And seeing someone in a leadership position acknowledge fear, stress, uncertainty and discomfort and watch them move forward anyhow can be incredibly affirming and inspiring for our people. Not only do they see us as more human, but they see us brave, courageous, gutsy, bold and unshakeable.
As this season of masks, costumes and disguises descends upon us, take a moment to reflect where in your life the mask serves you, and where it does not. Where the mask is a tool and where authenticity should lead. Vision, initiative, influence, integrity, and impact are major elements of effective leadership and most of these come from you, mask off, face to face.