It isn’t unusual that in being a part of the working world we do or will have an opportunity to lead. Regardless of that being there because we are a member of the organization’s leadership team, the head of a department or the leader of a special project, it clearly provides the chance for those lucky
enough to get this role to grow our skills and the value we offer to the team and the organization. The big challenge seems to come to many in terms of how to successfully execute the role of leader. For some it means wearing the mask of one enabling her or him to play the role as they believe a leader should. Unfortunately, that doesn’t often translate to being authentic and in today’s workplace being seen by others as authentic has become a key ingredient if one wants to be accepted and followed as their success requires.
I work with many leaders as a coach. To a very large extent they are all skilled at the work they do and it’s easy to understand why they are in the role they have. And yet, one area that seems to be overlooked in numerous organizations is the need or advisability of providing training on the very skills that the most effective leaders demonstrate. Rather, it seems to be presumed that anyone put into the role of leader will do just fine and will ask for help if they need it. This is not my experience or observation and thus, I encounter a lot of masks.
There are a few reasons that one might have the inclination to hide behind the mask of a leader. These include:
- To hide any insecurities we feel pertaining to the role that we have been given.
Be it that this role is a new experience or the group and related project we are leading is newterritory, feeling a bit of uncertainty is not unusual. For some, they believe donning the mask is a way to hide our true concerns and feelings from those looking to follow.
- To pretend to be something that we don’t believe we are capable of being.
It appears that the boss thinks I can do a good job and thus, offers me the position of leader. Of course, I take it for all that it potentially means to me, the organization and my future. Still I’m not feeling very confident and thus, bring out the mask as protection.
- To convey strength that one believes the followers will be inclined to follow.
Some equate that acting in a way that shows our strength will garner the respect that we need to be effective as a leader. But does it? Often this backfires and impacts the willingness of others to work in concert with their leader.
There are a few different traits that mask-wearing leaders demonstrate that are big clues as to one playing the role versus actually leading. These are:
- Being judgmental in ways they think and view a situation or individual.
This leader believes they are supposed to understand and know why something happened or why another person fell behind on an assignment and therefore make a judgement that too often is simply wrong. Being curious through questioning will provide one with the real facts behind an action and then, the leader will be in a much better position to act.
- Real leaders don’t cry … or resist showing emotions that reveal the ‘human’ side.
To the extent that we are concerned that to do so shows weakness we will often work hard to ‘fake it’ believing that our strength will be admired. Oops! Not so fast. Being real and unafraid to show vulnerability to others earns respect.
- Speaking loudly believing it will command respect.
Theodore Roosevelt said to ‘speak softly and carry a big stick’. Yet behind the mask a leader associates speaking loudly or even shouting as demonstrating clear leadership and commanding respect. Addressing team members in a quieter and confident tone can do wonders in terms of having willing followers and listeners.
- Holding a ‘final’ puzzle piece in the leader’s hands equating control with respect.
When the mask-wearing leader withholds the final answer or solution from another so that they will be needed to provide the situation solving solution they feel it communicates their importance and value to the project. It also often creates a revolving door of team members. Operating with the goal of replacing oneself in terms of helping a team to be able to operate without your involvement conveys both respect and self-confidence.
I am not implying that a leader wearing and operating from behind a mask hasn’t or can’t be successful. There have been many who have and do function in this manner with good results. However, a change that has occurred and had a real impact is the age of the workforce. Today, millennials make up about
75% of the workforce and being effective as a leader requires that we recognize this reality, become familiar with what drives this younger group and adapt the way we lead. To a large extent, a younger work base tends to be confident, technologically advanced and generally fast learners. They are and respect authenticity … from themselves and from others with whom they work. They want to be a key player in the success of the work being done and the mask-wearing leader is likely to encounter very real resistance from such members of a team if how they lead and relate to those on their team, demonstrates anything less.
Successfully leading is a challenge. And with so much changing, the most accomplished leader will do so with a real sense of self-awareness and an empowering management style that will engage the team. Wearing and operating from behind a mask risks conveying precisely what you don’t want to
communicate to those who follow. Understanding your impact on others … making a real effort to connect with each individual on the team … communicating in a clear and consistent manner … work to develop and demonstrate trust that you have in others and finally creating and communicating the vision toward which all can drive will make a mask something you can easily save for next Halloween.