A Leader’s Mask

I love Halloween! Why is it so exciting to dress up as something that you’re not? It’s thrilling, funny and even a bit risky because you’re trying to be something or somebody that is different from the real you.

Halloween is the one time each year that a city girl can be a cowgirl; the sweet and innocent can be monsters and mobsters; a teacher can be rock star and a businessman can be a priest!

Wearing a costume or mask is appropriate each year on October 31st but when is it appropriate in the work environment? When should a leader wear a mask? Let’s take a serious look at “masking” in the work environment.

Typically being different on the outside than your heart is feeling on the inside can be considered fake or even dishonest. After all it’s seen as charismatic and authentic to outwardly express emotion as a leader. It can be a tremendous asset when a leader is passionately casting vision and inspiring their team with true unguarded emotions. However, there are times when the leader’s emotions must be masked to protect the team from bearing a burden that is the responsibility of the leader to bear and not share.

My first experience in dealing with this was when I witnessed Carrie, one of my managers running around the office frantic with an obvious anxiety about her. I noticed her behavior was making those around her nervous. Turns out we had just received a very large order from a new client and she was a bit panicked about fulfilling it within the time frame requested. I pulled her into my office to settle her nerves. We discussed a game plan and just as importantly, I discussed how she needed to mask her feelings of anxiety. It was authentic because she was nervous, however her unmasked emotions were scaring the team and sending a message of anticipated failure, not achievement. She needed to wear a mask that illustrated a calming and confident demeanor. This nervousness was her burden to bear as the leader and should not be transmitted to the team.

I’ve also had to deal with masking my emotions many times in my career. Disappointing decisions made by others that impacted my team or my career is my burden to bear, not mine to share. In these situations I learned to mask my disappointments so that I wouldn’t influence my team inappropriately. While I felt disappointment or disagreement on the inside, I wore a mask that reflected the opposite. A secure leader never drags their team into their world of worries.

So what are you anxious about? Are you dragging those that work for you into that anxiety?

A question you might have right now is:

How then, do I give my team the sense of urgency in something if we are masking the true reality of current conditions?

First, we don’t mask the reality of the conditions. What we mask is our negative emotions of worry, anger or anxiety. Don’t pass the responsibility of your challenge to others, that’s yours to bear. You should however, include others in the game plan that will overcome the problem.

After leaving my office, Carrie huddled the team together to discuss the go forward plan. She was calm, cool and poised. This gave the team confidence. The next day we celebrated our achievement because the client was happy and the team pulled off a remarkable feat.


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