Leaders Need To Take Off Their Masks

Over the years I have noticed that many leaders hide who they really are. They pride themselves on creating a particular persona and refuse to step out of it. This is how they want their teams and their workplaces to know them. They are afraid if they share any personal background or challenges they have had, people will view them differently. Hiding who we honestly are and not sharing our authentic self can actually be confusing for our teams and ultimately create a divide between everyone and us. It is time to take off our masks so that we can be stronger leaders! And here’s why:

 Leaders with masks

Masks create distance

When we connect with people, it is important that they see and hear what we represent. Our teams want to know what we value and where we stand on different issues. Leaders need to be able to share the true direction of where they want to go or the team members just might not support them. Even worse, a team might go down a different path, unable to grasp the real goals or objectives. Then what we have created are two parallel roads, never intersecting or dead-ending.

Masks cultivate mistrust

The foundation for any high performing team is a culture of trust. Trust is built upon honesty and integrity, which cannot be established if we are not being truthful of who we are and what we believe. One way to establish trust is to get to know each in a deeper way. But what if we won’t allow ourselves to be vulnerable and open up to others? When we build a wall and are unable to tell others about our past mistakes or personal challenges, we cannot expect them to open up. The result is an environment of distrust. 

Masks contribute to miscommunication

Clear and open communication is what our teams crave from us and deserve from their leaders. When we use misleading words, don’t listen effectively or display inappropriate body language, our message will be misconstrued. Leaders owe it to their teams to be strong and transparent communicators, not hiding information flow or deliberately choosing confusing language. We need to mean what we say, even if others might not want to hear it.

Masks dilute relationship building

Our team’s success depends on our ability to build respectful relationships, where individuals feel safe to share their honest opinions, even if they are different from ours. Not telling others how we feel and not taking the time to understand their perspective, doesn’t allow for a healthy exchange of ideas. When leaders are insincere, and act differently from what they say, team members will not want to invest in the team. Being able to rely on one another and support each other’s strengths is essential to develop strong working relationships. Looking for and leveraging the unique talents of each person, is key to developing others and helping them grow professionally and personally.

Wearing masks prevents our genuine and authentic selves from leading our teams. It is time we remove the masks and lead openly. Are you a leader ready to unmask yourself? How will you do it?

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22 thoughts on “Leaders Need To Take Off Their Masks

  1. Hi Terri,

    Thanks for this post. Authenticity is a real issue for leaders. It strikes me that leaders often see constraints that might not really be there. Balancing self-disclosure risks with the authentic sharing that requires vulnerability sometimes requires navigating a narrow ledge. Finding the narrow ledge and widening it can foster connection. And, its worth the journey.


  2. Terri – Everything here rings true. I strongly agree that false persona’s can make the difference between good leaders and really, really great leaders that thrive on connection and relationships. It’s interesting, I’ve had people ask me about what to do when they’ve cultivated a relationship of trust with the team and it looks like there may be downsizing or some radical changes in the organization. When asked about it, or how they feel about it (if the info is public) the most authentic leaders I know are the ones that struggle the most between wanting to show their true feelings and walk the “leadership line”

    This is a must read post, Terri for leaders that are holding back who they are and think leadership is only about what they do.

  3. Great points, Terri. I believe the “masks” come off at some point in time. People figure it out or a bigger stumble happens and the mask falls off. It is much easier to be authentic and growing. Although there will be authenticity challenges along the way, having the right view will help leaders stay on the right leadership path forward.

    Thanks! Jon

  4. Thanks Terri for your wonderful comments about the fine balance between allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and making deeper connections. You are so on point when you say it is challenging to find that harmony. Many leaders are not able to see the great benefits of authentic sharing because they are too closed minded and fearful. When we are able to lead by sharing more sides of ourselves, we truly cultivate meaningful relationships and trust. Thanks again for your additions! Terri

  5. Great additions, Alli to my post, especially the concept of “holding back who they are and think leadership is only about what they do”! I too have always felt that if we only see our leadership as our tasks and responsibilities, we miss out on sharing who we are as people. In the end, leaders who are able to show what they value and what’s really important to them, their team will see them as human and visionary.It can be difficult for so many leaders to expose that inside piece. Thanks again!

  6. You are so right, Jon, that having the right view and leading by our core values, we will move forward in a positive direction. I wonder if “masks” come off for all people because there seem to be so many fears about exposing who we really are. Until leaders can allow themselves to be vulnerable, there is little chance of creating trusting relationships. Thanks for additions! Terri

  7. I am all in favor of authenticity at work and this post is a great plug for it. Although I don’t agree that leaders need to take off the masks, I believe that the masks need to be consciously selected and worn with “breathing room” if you will — so that the real person is always shining through, so that trust is still cultivated and communication can be clear. Maybe it’s just semantics, but I believe masks actually enable more of ourselves can shine through in particular roles. Make-up is a good example of this. It is a mask, yet it is also statement that you care about how you look, adds to your own confidence and enables you to appear and act professionally. Of course, if you are working late and the make-up is off — there is no real fear if a co-worker sees you as you have been real person all along.

  8. Excellent posts Terri. There are far too many people who put on a mask and portray themselves to be somebody who they aren’t. This often happens on account of insecurity, not being self aware and not being happy with who they are.

    They don’t know or refuse to be authentic in their skin.

    Enjoyed reading your post

  9. Terri,

    Couldn’t agree more. The more open, honest and transparent we are with others, the greater trust we build. And without trust; there can be no authentic and valuable leadership.

    Thanks much!


  10. Some very interesting points, Blair about the metaphor of “masks”. I guess I was thinking of masks as attitudes, values and inner feelings that people have and consciously hide them for fear of being judged. What happens sometimes is that leaders are not willing to share their real feelings or attitudes if they think others might disagree or put them down. When that happens, those around us never get to genuinely know who we are and what we believe. As a result, genuine relationships cannot be built. I totally agree that we all are entitled to share what we want to share with others.I so appreciate your thoughts!

  11. Thanks Lalita for your continued support! That is a great point that people who are not comfortable with themselves, can’t share their genuine side with others. It can be difficult for some to show others what they really feel or believe if they worry about the responses. The best leaders make decisions and take actions that are consistent with their core values. That’s always the best way to go. Thanks again!

  12. Love your additions, Linda! Without honesty and transparency, it is virtually impossible to build trusting relationships. The best leaders have figured out they if they rely on their true values and feelings, they can lead teams most effectively. Taking off our masks only makes us stronger and more credible. Thanks again!

  13. Really great points about the perils of keeping our masks on, Terri. So many companies–and senior leaders–encourage us to develop persona and keep our masks on. Many years ago, my CEO kept telling me that I was a weak leader because I cared (about my team and members from other teams), and constantly pressured me to become tougher like her. She must have a heart, but she surely wouldn’t let it show. It surely would be nice if more leaders in more organizations recognize the true value of being authentic and truly relating, not managing our masks.

  14. What a shallow CEO you had, Alice, who was unable to see your gifts and beautiful contributions! You are so right that this happens all the time where we are forced to act a certain way to fit in. That can be stifling for many people. Strong leaders recognize and support diversity on their teams and empower their team members to be true to their core values and talents. The first step, however, might be for a leader to take off their mask and show who they are and what is important to them. Thanks so much for your insightful comments!

  15. Fantastic post. The key is clearly integrity. Long gone are the days when ‘leaders’ had to demand leadership and respect and, in fact, such leadership results in an unhappy, discontent and dispassionate workforce.

    It is authentic leaders who have taken their masks off who provide both inspiration in the entrepreneurial world and to inspire a workforce to be committed to the company vision, product and goals.

    I once spent time at a meeting with 500 young entrepreneurs in the UK and as I went around the room in conversation each one of them said that their company was doing “great”, “exceptionally well”, “could not have been better” – this was in 2008, weeks after the UK had announced it’s biggest economic decline in a long time. Who modeled this such a behavior to a younger generation of leaders?

    Thank Goodness there are those who are not afraid to reveal all for the sake of providing inspiration to others.

    Awesome post!

  16. You are so right, Mark, that authentic leaders are confident enough to take their masks off, which in turn displays to others their true intentions and dreams. What an amazing story about those young entrepreneurs in 2008. They were just doing what they had been told to say and share by their inauthentic senior leaders. Leaders need to model transparency and honesty for teams to trust them and follow them. Many leaders are just too fearful of showing who they really are. Thanks again for your wonderful additions to my post!
    I did change the spelling on your name!

  17. Terri,

    I love the way you end your post with a question,
    “Are you a leader ready to unmask yourself? How will you do it?”

    The point is leaders who wears masks – wear them for a reason and unless we don’t uncover the reason, they will continue to wear the mask.

    I am not sure leaders wear masks to be unauthentic or mistrusted. I think they wear masks because they are scared.

    And unless we uncover what they are scared of… They will continue to wear their masks. So what will it take you ask?

    It takes guidance and self discovery. It takes time and it takes patience.

    Love this post. Love your work Terri.

    Lead From Within

  18. Lolly,
    I agree with you that the masks leaders wear are covering up their fears and possibly some hurt. It is a journey they must take to understand why they feel compelled to hide behind their true self.I think that sometimes leaders think they must portray a certain image and if they show their vulnerabilities they think others might think less of them. Of course the opposite is true- when we reveal all our sides we become human. I so appreciate your comments especially: “It takes guidance and discovery.” Terri

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