By Jon Patton – June 2022
Great leadership isn’t about pretending to know all the answers. Instead, you get the best out of your people by creating a culture where people are allowed to bring their full talent and creativity to the table.
During our programs, leaders often share struggles from both their professional and personal lives and come to the surprising realization that the doubts that plague their everyday thinking are shared by others. Even those who are regarded as being highly accomplished and successful are also plagued by similar doubts and insecurities.
Leaders often feel the need to act like they have all the answers. They feel pressured to project a “mask” of confidence and strength regardless of what is happening in their professional or personal lives. Honest conversations allow people to stop pretending and come out from behind their mask.
The backlash of living your life behind a “mask” can be significant.
Our “mask” can represent what we think people expect of us or the way we want to be seen. This exacts a physical toll, as it can be both stressful and exhausting. It also sends a coded message to those around you, especially if you are in a position of authority, that it is not alright to be “real” and they too must adorn a mask. Consequently, they will stop asking for help when they need it.
We can become so used to wearing our masks that we forget to take them off, even when we go home to our families. Many of our clients have shared that their spouses have accused them of treating them like an employee, or that they find themselves having discussions with their children that sound more like performance reviews than parental advice.
This is increasingly normal behavior, and it quickly leads to a workplace culture where masks meet masks and where people are deprived of the opportunity for closer relationships that allow their unique and diverse gifts to shine.
So how do we stop wearing the mask?
Unwritten rules and organizational expectations make it necessary to adapt our behavior. However, there are ways to begin lowering the mask while doing so. Here are four steps to start living and leading more genuinely:
- Take the time to sincerely engage in the “How are you?” A client recently shared how his boss regularly devotes quality time to ask about him and his family. She also doesn’t shy away from sharing what was going on in her own life. She inspires devotion by caring about the people she works with and sharing who she is outside of her title. She continues to get more prominent and significant roles as people want her on their team.
- Show more courage in sharing your thoughts and feelings. Discussions often skirt the heart of the matter for lack of confidence or fear of upsetting the group. I was recently involved in one of these discussions, and eventually, someone awkwardly said, “This is not easy for me to say…and I hate to bring it up…but I think we’re avoiding that we may need to lay people off.” He acknowledged his own discomfort expressing how he felt (lowering his mask), and his powerful intervention pushed the conversation forward within the group.
- Entirely remove the mask to engage with loved ones and family. Pre-2020, there was often a physical distance between work and home where we could decompress and adjust as we re-entered our family space. Now, many people are working virtually where it’s more difficult to disconnect. If this sounds like you, consider turning off your computer at the end of the workday and giving yourself 10 minutes before leaving your workspace. Use this time as your “commute” to intentionally separate your work and home life. For me, it is as simple as:
a) Consciously breathe out the stresses of the day.
b) Visualize yourself being attentive, present, and caring with your family.
c) Remind yourself that the relationship with your family is, in the grand scheme, the most important thing.
- Discover who you really are through a meditation practice. Many times, we don’t know we’re wearing a mask. We have been socialized to think and act in certain ways over many years, leading to programmed behavior patterns, which we confuse with our natural instincts. We confuse our thoughts with our self-identity.
My most transformational realization was that “I” am not my thoughts. I’ve found that having a meditation practice is the most effective aid in the journey of discovery. Through meditation, you can create the distance to objectively observe your thoughts—a critical step in moving beyond your own mental program.
Many people are familiar with apps like Headspace, Calm, and Insight Timer—all of which are great—but I also want to recommend a five-week course that requires 20-30 minutes most days of the week, and it can be a game-changer in life. Access the course by Peter Russell here.
The plot in many of our favorite movies (Harry Potter, Star Wars, The Matrix, etc.) are all journeys of self-discovery, otherwise known as the Hero’s Journey. The basis of the Hero’s Journey is discovering and acting as our true selves. It’s a journey of courage and great reward and may even be the entire point of life.
Being honest about challenges will help you see each other unmasked, face to face. This simple human experience makes even the basic things in life feel like a new adventure.