01 Oct 2009  What Do YOU Think?

Can the “Masks of Command” Coexist with Authentic Leadership?

Summing up. "Instructors seek case studies that provoke discussion on both sides of an issue and raise many questions. We seem to have found such an issue this month," says Professor Jim Heskett, reviewing nearly 80 insightful comments. (Online forum now closed; next forum begins November 4.)

 

Summing Up

Do authentic leaders need "masks of command"? Instructors seek case studies posing issues that provoke discussion on both sides of an issue and raise many questions. We seem to have found such an issue this month: Can the "masks of command" coexist with authentic leadership?

Those arguing that the two can coexist cite situations, generally involving adversity, in which the "greater good" is served by masking a leader's feelings. Frances Pratt argued that "… we must be careful (and caring) in the way we tell people difficult things. I do not believe that this makes us inauthentic." As Marlis Krichewsky put it, "Playing with the mask when the situation allows it strengthens the team spirit." Dan Erwin commented, "… rather than a single underlying, authentic and true self, individuals are a collection of masks tied to particular social or work settings." While agreeing in general, Ann Parker voiced a note of caution: "All leaders at times mask their feelings, especially fear or uncertainty. The danger is that for some they begin to believe that the mask is who they really are."

Others were not so sanguine. Richard Neff offered the opinion that "The(re) is no right or one way to lead … It should, however, always be authentic. Otherwise it's not leadership at all." Kamal Gupta pointed out that "Speaking the truth with your team always helps. It builds trust." Shadreck Saili commented, "When a leader builds a mask around him/her … you close yourself from learning." Joe Schmid had no doubt, saying, "I'll simpl(ify) the question substituting 'two faced' for 'mask.' Can a two faced leader be 'authentic'? … Absolutely not." M. Mushato was even more emphatic: "The mask concept explains most if not all of mankind's woes of today."

Those arguing a middle ground put forth some interesting suggestions, such as Leamon Duncan's: "… sometimes leaders must mask feelings and emotions in order to exhibit calm in the midst of chaos…. It's after the battle when the leader shares how they actually felt or the range of emotions they were experiencing…. Be who you are, lead how you prefer to be led."

The importance of self-awareness in the use of "masks" was stressed repeatedly. As Richard Strasser said, "… to lead with authenticity, a leader needs to be very comfortable with who he is as a person." Brian Woodward put it this way: "The most important and powerful conversations occur between the individual leader and his/her leader's mask."

Questions raised were as interesting as the comments. Although she didn't pose it as a question, Dianne Jacobs challenged us to think about whether "the experience and consequences of practicing leadership (and the use of masks) will be different for women"? (She believes they are.) Dr. Kervokian asked whether what is authentic is relative to "environmental and cultural norms." Then there were those who asked just what functions "masks" serve? David Broderick said, "The main reason masks exist is for leaders to hide their flaws from their followers." Srini commented that "'Authentic Leaders' do not have the need for a mask." What do you think?

Original Article

In a new retrospective of his work titled The Essential Bennis, leadership guru Warren Bennis raises questions about the nature of leadership that are related to some we considered several months ago in this column: "Can a leader be authentic, or do the masks of command … force the leader to be something other than his or her true self? Can a leader both act and be real?" (To underline questions about the theatrical nature of leadership that Bennis raises, he selected actress Glenn Close as the discussant for the article in the book.) Bennis concludes that "These are terribly important questions with no easy answers." Bill George, former Chairman and CEO of Medtronic and now a professor at the Harvard Business School, thinks he knows the answers.

George lays out the elements of "authentic leadership" in his book of the same name. They are: "(1) pursuing purpose with passion: Authentic leaders must first understand themselves and their passions, (2) practicing solid values: values are personal, but integrity is required of all leaders, (3) leading with heart: it means having passion for your work, compassion for the people you serve, empathy for the people you work with, and the courage to make difficult decisions, (4) establishing enduring relationships: people insist on access to, as well as openness and depth of relationships with, their leaders, (5) demonstrating self-discipline: this requires accepting full responsibility for outcomes and holding others accountable for their performance."

Having established a framework for authentic leadership, George and his coauthor then personally interviewed 125 leaders they identify as "authentic" to share their experiences in "discovering" their authentic leadership. These often moving descriptions are packaged in a book, True North, to signify that the process is intended to create a personal compass, not a watch, built around the elements of authentic leadership described above.

The authors describe a "journey to leadership" that cannot be made, they argue, without "framing your life story, discerning your passions, finding your leadership purpose" and aligning it with that of your organization. This requires that a foundation of mutual respect be created by "treating others as equals, being a good listener, and learning from people." One important objective is to enable others to lead. This requires "showing up (being visible), engaging people, helping teammates, challenging leaders, stretching people, and aligning everyone around a mission."

To what end is all of this important? At the end of Authentic Leadership, George poses several questions: "What will be your legacy? At the end of your days, what will you tell your grandchild you did to better humankind? No matter how large or small a difference you make, it will become the legacy that you leave the world." George employs all the right words in his thesis. He asks inspiring questions. He relates the experiences of a carefully selected sample of leaders that he regards as authentic. But as you think of those you know in positions of authority, do they all fit this "scheme"? Are some able to navigate a managerial life without being authentic to their organizations or to themselves? In fact, are there times, as Bennis asks, when it is necessary to avoid being authentic? Are these contradictory notions? Or can the "masks of command" coexist with authentic leadership? What do you think?

To read more:

Warren Bennis with Patricia Word Biederman, The Essential Bennis (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009)

William George, Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003)

Bill George with Peter Sims, True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2007)

Comments

    • CJ Cullinane

    The truly great leaders seldom wear a 'mask' but walk the talk. Passion, values, heart, people, and self-disipline are to the core of a great leader not on the surface only (a mask).

    A mask is to cover or use for disguise. To lead the qualities have to be part of the person right down to their very core. A leader may have to hide their emotions at times but the values of the leader will always show through.

    Short term success may be won with good utilization of masks, but long term success requires authentic, to the core, leadership. Walking the talk always seems to be more effective than masks.

    Thanks, Charlie

     
     
     
    • Chad Weinstein
    • Director, Hill Center for Ethical Business Leadership (ethics.jjhill.org)

    Thank you for raising an interesting question, and for citing 3 excellent works in the process. In our work with firefighters, we've found an interesting example of the need for a "mask of command" in critical incident command. Great commanders lead - and inspire cooperation as well as obedience - by consistently demonstrating authenticity pod the fireground. Command becomes one mode of authentic leadership appropriate for a specific context.

    Business leaders likewise can earn the right to command, when necessary, in part by not doing so the rest of the time.

     
     
     
    • Dr. Kervokian
    • Consultant, Dark Arts of Management (http://darkartsmanagement.blogspot.com/)

    I'd agree with True North 100%.

    However, as much a leader is authentic, he needs to overcome fundamental weaknesses and replace them with strengths "expected" of a leader.

    Fundamentals that rule our being are "emotions" and "morality". Both of which, highly arbitrary within the context of tangibility.

    For example, should a leader exhibit "fear" and "weariness" or must he wear a mask of bravado and strength. Secondly, to which aspect of morality should he stand; a utilitarian one? Where the benefit of the greater good rules or a principled moral ethical ground where what is wrong, is wrong.

    To summarize; a leader is not born solely by the owner's convictions, but rather the personification of public "expectations".

    It's a scary thought because this implies that "leadership" as we know it today can change depending on environmental and cultural norms. Secondly, to dictate that one cultural expectation is better than another is a debate that is highly sensitive as it is potentially xenophobically influenced.

     
     
     
    • Anonymous

    The "mask of command" is a somthing that allows mediocre managers who have risen to certain positions just by virtue of hanging around to hide their inadequacies. By discarding it geniune leaders would do themselves and their organizationsa favor. All too often impressionable young minds see the "mask" as the real thing and grow up pursuing the wrong ideal of leadership. But the "mask" does have short term benefits of helping us get things done, even by mediocre leaders, but the price we pay is that of creating a void in terms of genuine leaders and empowered associates.

     
     
     
    • Walter P. Blass
    • Visiting Prof. of Management, Grenoble Graduate School of Business

    I too believe that authenticity will come through, and that the 'wearing of a mask' is very dangerous. Too many 'leaders' do not hear what is going around at the water cooler about themselves. As one case study illustrated, one CEO who thought that no one knew about impending layoffs was confronted by a subordinate who asked him when they were to be imposed. When he asked, 'how did you know', she replied, because everyone sees you looking at your shoes when there are bad news! Shrewd psychological insights are not restricted to professionals: secretaries in particular seem to understand their bosses better than the bosses themselves. As the saying goes, reputations are made over years and unmade in one moment. Anyone who thinks a mask can be sustained has never spoken with a valet, or a 30 year friend.

     
     
     
    • Marlis Krichewsky
    • researcher and consultant, IFE (France)

    We all play roles in our professional lives, because we act or try to act in tune with what the situation requires, suspending our personal needs and drives in order to make ourselves available. There's nothing wrong with that. My professional self isn't quite the same as my family self or my artist self. Jean-Claude Kaufmann (2004, L'invention de soi. Une theorie de l'identite. Paris: Hachette) explains this very well (but in French!). The professional mask is frequently somewhat transparent. Everybody knows we are play-acting. Sometimes irony or even humour allow us to establish a sort of double connexion with the people we work with. Playing with the mask when the situation allows it strengthens the team spirit.

     
     
     
    • Simon Stapleton
    • Founder, SimonStapleton.com

    Many of the 'great leaders' I have worked with wear masks of command. For most followers, the mask stimulates and inspires awe and loyalty, particularly to the impressionable, inexperienced and needy of clear direction where none exists. Masks of commands are a very effective 'avatar' in my experience.

    However, when followers grow, become wise, build confidence in themselves and set their own agendas, the mask is unveiled as a disappointing sham. It's a painful experience to see the leader who once inspired in a very different light.

    So the net result, in my experience, is an organization who has a disengedered middle-tier of leadership - the very people who should connect and inspire the troops day to day.

    Masks of command don't work for sustained growth of an organization.

     
     
     
    • Ann Parker
    • Psychologist

    All leaders at times mask their feelings especially fear or uncertianty. The danger is that for some they begin to believe that the mask is who they reallly are. At this point the integral piece of leadership, authenticity, is lost. Without which integrity, empathy, real listening, caring, and the ability to find true north are dangerously comprimised. We now have the proverbial Emperer sans clothes.

     
     
     
    • John King
    • Senior Partner, CultureSync

    Interesting question - no. There is a qualitative difference between moods and emotions as distinct from core values and a commitment to a noble cause. The function of the leader, among other things is to create, model, provide, and correct an environment in which others flourish. His/her position is public and is granted as a privilege by those being led. This granted privilege can and will be revoked in a heartbeat, and without notice by those being led if they sense the slightest scintilla of inauthenticity. While the person wearing the 'mask of command' may be in the position of authority, in the eyes of the group, they are not a true leader. Leadership is a sacred trust, and as Bill George suggests, requires a 'true north' of purpose and intent.

     
     
     
    • Dan Erwin
    • principal, Erwin Group, http://bit.ly/2OXXXM

    Bennis' comment that this is a difficult question with no easy answers is spot on. Gen-Yers and their elders often struggle with the issue in the workplace. Responding to widespread popular wisdom, most Gen-Yers place a heavy emphasis upon following their passion and finding their true, authentic selves, the self that Bill George writes about.

    Yet the repertoire of possibilities within that view supports what some of us have long suspected: rather than a single underlying, authentic and true self, individuals are a collection of masks tied to particular social or work settings.

    Stanford's Hazel Markus studied this dynamic, finding that the masks a person can wear vary from setting to setting, and provide a diverse set of possibilities of possibilities within a person's basic view of himself/herself as independent, successful or competent. That parallels such basic views as finding and aligning basic personal and organizational purpose.

    What this makes possible are differing masks, based upon the demands of a situation. Chameleonlike is not necessarily evil.

    In fact, Warren Bennis guest-articled for Jack Welch on Business Week, writing that theatricality, masking and taking on differing poses may well be a necessary leadership competency. As Bennis notes, masks were changed often by founding fathers such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, well as 20th century presidents like FDR and JFK.

    Bennis' statement, which I allude to in a post, makes a case for the use of masks and theatricality in effective leadership.

     
     
     
    • Anonymous

    There are times when a mask may be necessary. For example, outwardly exhibiting controlled calm in a time of grave disruption or organizational angst when the leader may be overwhelmed and authentically afraid or anxious. However, in the normal course of business, authenticity of leadership is critical to establishing a foundation of trust and enabling the team to have some relative sense of how the leader will respond in various situations.

     
     
     
    • David Zemanek

    "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time."

    For a short-term, one-time extreme situation where the goal is to keep others calm and safe where life is threatened I would say is o.k.

    In the corporate world, the habit of putting on a mask is an attempt to decieve others into believing that you have capabilities and knowledge you lack. The cracks will become evident and eventually erode trust and confidence.

    I believe that you can authentically put forth the effort to assume a leadership position when necessary by focusing on what needs to be accomplished, being open about what you know and don't know and and actively enlisting support for your mission.

     
     
     
    • Gerald Nanninga
    • VP, Retail Ventures, Inc.

    Are we making a distinction between "great leaders" and "successful leaders"? Over the years, I have seen successful leaders whose true north would be centered around words like "greed," "lust for power," or, in Andy Grove's words, "paranoia."

    I'm not sure this is the type of authenticity Bill George is looking for, but it would be a lie for them to put on a mask, deny their true motivations, and say the types of words George uses. Gordon Gekko was authentic when he said "Greed is Good." That was his passion.

    I think we need to come to grips with the fact that there are nice leaders and there are nasty leaders. You can find both successful and non-successful leaders in both camps. Greatness is something, therefore, which much transcend success. Of course, this calls into question the objective of capitalism--success or greatness.

     
     
     
    • M. Mushato
    • Human Resources Manager, Exhort

    This debate brings to the fore once again the question of whether real leaders are born or made. I personally subscribe to the former philosophical stance (they are born!!) As clearly spelt out in the main article above, the 5 traits of authentic leadership cannot be mimicked- you must possess them- they must be part of you. What business schools and work experience only do is sharpen and orient these natural endowments. It then follows that the whole idea of having to put on masks is to cover for what cannot not be there! The mask concept explains most if not all of mankind's woes of today which are a direct result of lack visionary and inspiring leadership. In most situations we do not have leaders but have people in leadership positions- this distinction is very important- being in a leadership position is not the same as being a leader (thanks for the 5 traits of authentic leaders above!)

     
     
     
    • Nicolas Picazo
    • Process Manager, IXE (http://npicazo.wordpress.com/)

    The relevance of authentic leadership prevalence over masks of command goes even further than general management scope. Modern culture & society promote a greater matter of powerful, financially rich profiles than self authenticity and congruence. A low ratio of alignment between both factors is sure to be a cause of enterprise underperformance and even psychological illness.

    There is no doubt that we may override our emotional and personal needs to accomplish profesional goals, as a lot of leaders do it in a certain way. I also agree that disalignment may be beneficial in some situations, but definitely a manager that guides an organization with a flawed impetus based on "a required unnatural profile" is prone to take "required unnatural decisions".

    "Mask-full" managers are also quite easy to identify and regularly are perceived as not authentic taking a toll in their leadership effectiveness.

     
     
     
    • CJ Fearnley
    • Executive Director, Synergetics Collaborative

    Being "comprehensively authentic" is very difficult if not impossible. There are challenging situations in which one may not yet have enough experience won and experience verified trial and error background to find one's "authentic voice". In such trying circumstances we will, typically, reflex with a "mask of command" ... some voice or action derived from our cultural heritage (watching movies, TV, YouTube, past family, educational, business or other life experiences that inform our subconscious and conscious minds when working on issues outside our immediate comprehensive understanding). These reflexes to the "masks of command" can become the fodder for the future learning of the authentic leader.

    I would submit that the authentic leader should not be afraid of making mistakes and falling into a "mask of command" reflex from time-to-time (indeed, it is inevitable!). But they must strive to integrate each such experience into their broader vision of true purpose as they spiral out on their learning and leadership trajectory. Step by step this path of authenticity, or more broadly, integrity (because it includes both truthfulness and integration of complex issues into one's vision and in alignment with one's organization and, hopefully also, with the betterment of all Humanity), will define one's leadership legacy.

     
     
     
    • Anonymous

    A leader is not someone without flaws and therefore would have at some time of the other to 'hide' these flaws for the benefit of the whole organization. However, there must be the genuine self displayed most of the time in order to rally the troop to meet the goals and objectives of the organization. Being honest, humble and acknowledging that they don't know everything are qualities most enduring in a leader who will have a great following.

     
     
     
    • Anonymous

    I would not have thought this a difficult question; as others have indicated, a mask cannot last nor does it inspire those who realize it is being worn. However, I work for a financial services company that was caught up in the maelstrom of the last couple of years. Our CEO, an authentic and likable leader, lost his position suddenly and unwillingly. In the course of the cascading conference calls which accompany any unexpected news, one very senior leader (a longtime friend and colleague of the CEO) allowed his emotion to come through on his call. Like many of us who were feeling emotional around the event, it seemed he felt hurt, surprised, even a bit betrayed, but mostly deeply sad for this good man who had lost his job. His conference call became a topic of discussion at my own leader's staff meeting, where my peers castigated this senior leader for letting his emotions show. "He's human", I protested. "But he's a leader!" they responded with deep outrage -- and the clear message that the two cannot be confused. Leader must take precedence over humanity. I became very discouraged that day: if one cannot retain one's human emotions, what good is one as a leader??

     
     
     
    • Phil Clark
    • Clark & Associates

    Great discussion. This is one that will linger as long as man exists. Too often the mask is not for others, it is often for ourselves. Even authentic leaders with all the right character and behaviors, have a bit of a mask. Leadership is something a person excepts because they want to. It evolves to guide something we care about and believe in. Even with the maximum of confidence, leaders will have moments of angst. That's being a caring and concerned human being.

    Those who use masks to bolster their "leadership" are ones who often fail to see the impact of their decisions on others but harbor their own viewpoint. Being able to make decisions does not necessarily make you a leader. Leaders see beyond themselves.

    We also must not allow this definition of "mask" take on a life of its own. Too often I see people "creating personas" for leaders because that is what they want to see. They agree with these people and place them onto leadership pedestals. When those "leaders" then make a decision they do not agree with they unmask them in the unkindest way. Unfortunately, they did not realize that these leaders stood on their own character and principles that did not match perfectly with those pushing them into leadership roles. Real leaders stand on their own two feet and do not let the masses move them with every populist whim.

    Leadership is a tough business, especially if the publics measure is popularity and how they agree with them.

     
     
     
    • Raj Mali
    • Founder, www.rajmali.com

    Firstly, thanks for such an amazing article. In my view, the power of authenticity expands leaders ability to connect and enroll more and more people in his vision.

    The issues of commitment, lack of initiative, unwillingness to expand responsibility at work place, in my view are directly connected with a leader who believes in masking.

    Also authenticity brings forth a personal sense of connection to the grander vision of the organization, when others see this evident in the leader, they say hey this is what i was looking for.

    Though masks could be useful in certain contexts, i believe the real power of a leader is unleashed when he is authentic.

     
     
     
    • Jan Pieter Verweij
    • Consultant, House of Performance

    Thanks for the interesting question. To be a leader, is it always necessary to be authentic? Let's say that you are a leader when you have some people who want to follow you. By following I mean that some people do what you want them to do: they work for you, they help you etc. Then I would argue, it is the follower or group of followers that decides who is their leader. Because the followers choose him or tolerate him, or whatever it is they do to leave the leader in the position to lead.

    Now in our era one could argue that leaders should always be "authentic" to be tolerated and that we do not accept any "mask". The question for me is: is that off all ages or in all situations? Or is authenticity like fashion: if you are not a little bit fashionable the group will not tolerate you? And today's fashion is "being true to yourself, being authentic", but next season it is "be clear on the facts and goals, the team, but stop talking or thinking about YOURSELF". Why not?

    Do I - as a follower - in all situations care if my leader or my boss is authentic? Why would that be relevant to me? I really don't know. As long as he or she brings me what I need.

    But on the other hand: yes I can imagine authenticity is very relevant in all leadership situations because in any leadership - followers relationship there is always the unconscious shadow of father-child (mother-child) relations. And we unconsciously might be very much aware when some is not our father, but pretends to be?

    PS: When I write about a leader as a him or he, please also read her or she ;)

     
     
     
    • Paul T. Jackson
    • Owner Consultant, Trescott Research

    The 5 traits of a leader are described well, along with others. However, that doesn't make a leader. As I've said before in this column, leaders are not made nor born, they are determined by those FOR whom they work for. A person becomes a leader, if those people see that person as a leader, and commit to what he/she has committed to to get the job done, whatever that might be.

    As discussed above, some get to play leader, only because of the status a given company has given them, but that is not authentic leadership.

    I have a problem with the "mask of command" sobriquet as it sounds like something made up that could otherwise be subscribed as "a complete idiot placed in charge," or any other NEW term for the sake of writing a book around it.

     
     
     
    • Anonymous

    In the world we still have a lot of "sub-prime" leadership. Call it "mask of command" or short run approach. Full of "toxic assets" on ways to manage.

    Are the organizations really prepared to promote authentic people? Do we need another kind of economic collapse to change our mind? Obviously we need more than good business schools. We need a way to "improve" our hearts. Where is that way?

     
     
     
    • Tom Dolembo
    • Consultant, Disaster Planning Assoc.

    In Harvard Gov 180 in 1967, Henry Kissinger taught us that the US was obsessed with goodness in its leaders, and that the rest of the world in general was led, and had always been led, by murderous thugs. The US was cursed, therefore to remain outside the practical political. Kissinger led Nixon in tow to Mao's China, subsequently, and the US finally made solid contact, proving his point. Harvard trains leaders, it claims, and chooses those who have had a history of unbridled success, acclaim, and achievement. History, however, raises its leaders from failure, often imprisonment, near death, and often born in a spiritual wilderness. Their training was anything but Cantabridgian.

    Leaders emerge with times, challenges, prepared by often demonic circumstance. Their authenticity is often proven by despotic zeal, their moral compass as driven south as north, and they survive by chance and guile far more often than consensus. Bennis dances past the psychopathic determination mistaken for greed, ambition blinded by flagrantly abused childhoods, cold blooded pathologies and offers us a warm possibility for leaders. Few if any, of those we remember ever were, decent, nice folks. The best of them would have diced you for your shoelaces at the start.

    It comes to this, perhaps. Passion, heart, devoted relationships and discipline when driven beyond the edge form leaders of charismatic power, antichristian image, and astoundingly powerful vision. But it doesn't make them good, or safe, or less deadly. Business is no different. When we choose the brightest and best among us for leaders, do we breed for empathy or do we breed for scent, tooth and claw? Then what should we have expected when we set them loose?

     
     
     
    • Dr. Ian Metcalfe
    • Director/Facilitator, Adaptive Learning

    Thanks for this post - it certainly has raised considerable interest and a number of issues:

    Firstly, I think it has to be said that at the start of the 21st century we are still struggling to define what "leadership" actually is, and I'm not about to add yet another definition. I fully support Prof. Nitin Nohria's view that "our conceptions of leadership are often shaped by the zeitgeist of our times". That new forms of leadership are emergent and are created in response to our current and future needs. The leadership trend over the last 200-300 years appears match the form of relationship between leader and follower and varies from (1) haphazard individuals in positions of power (because of birth or individual powerful characteristics i.e. charisma, oration, forcefulness, fearfulness) to (2) hierarchical bureaucratic positional authority (leadership based on the title held and role played within a well defined structure) - i.e. the king, boss, or a manager. To (3) Transactional leadership originating in the tasks undertaken and the psychological and economic contract between worker and leader/manager/supervisor. To (4) Transformational leader based on ability to change self, individuals, teams and the organisation - to work with culture and purpose and make-a-difference. To more (5) distributed organic forms of leadership which go by many names as we are still evolving these - integral leadership, new-science, quantum leadership and so on.

    I think the question of this post ("Can the "Masks of Command" Coexist with Authentic Leadership?") can now be contextualised within this framework of leadership-followership relationships. The important sub-question is "how does a leader transition between these different levels of leadership?

    I relate the "Masks of Command" to the command-control nature of the hierarchical bureaucracy (level 2) and "Transactional" task-based leadership (level 3) as defined originally by 18th C. Frederick the Great of Prussia but incorporated into twentieth century business life by Frederick Winslow Taylor and his Scientific Management. The purpose of the "Mask of Command" is to set up for a positional manager a pre-formulated set of actions, expectations and beliefs which when stringently applied creates a certain level of control, standardisation, policy, coordination, certainty (mediocraty) and compliance within the workforce.

    People obey "the boss" because of his/her "Mask of Control" - a "professional" facade worn by such supervisors/bosses/managers/leaders who for many reasons do not believe that they can maintain their team's "performance" or "success" any other way. This could be due to a perceived lack of capability of the employee or employer. To transition between levels 2/3 to level 4 "Transformational" leadership requires a number of things which are the antithesis of "Command/Control". Firstly, awareness by the leader/boss that it is their behaviours and mindset (plus organisational culture, systems and structures) which are holding their employees (and therefore performance) back. That there is a better, more natural and personal way to run a team, department or organisation. With this awakening comes two key requirements (a) the leader understands that they must be "authentic" (find their own values-based leadership style, have integrity and humility, empathy, listening skills and compassion) if they are to engage and empower employees and access their "discretional ask" - access their hearts & minds (not just employees bodies). This leader must be passionate, purposeful, humble, determined and wish to leave a lasting legacy. And (b) realise that the source of sustainability, significance and high-performance is the willing and committed follower who is freed from the compliance inherent in the "mask of command". This means a new relationship and a new focus on the needs of the employee.

    Instead of positional/status-driven management with a boss-focus, we become employee-focused. Instead of task- focused we become people-centred. Now personal (as well as professional), individual growth is necessary (development not training) for everyone (not just the 'talent' or 'stars')! The ideas is for everyone to be more capable, confident, courageous and committed - things which cannot be "commanded" or mandated but given freely by employees who have authentic, open, honest, respectful and trusting two-way relationships with their leaders. In this Bill George seems to have it essentially right. Indeed "leadership" is a personal and collective journey (it actually follows quite closely the "hero's journey" as described by Joseph Campbell in the book of the same name).

    The next transition from authentic transactional leadership to a more distributed, organic form of leadership is initiated by the realisation of the leader that their position of power is in fact getting in the way of the next level of organisational performance - one which is achieved when the conditions for "autopoeisis" (see the work of Francisco J. Varela and Humberto R. Maturana) are attained. [Note: this is only necessary if the external world has changed to one where the demand is for flexible and adaptive organisations - i.e. the "New Economy.] Now we are talking about leadership based on soul not role. The leader freely gives up positional (title, status based) power to become a supporter, facilitator and coach to employees who really run the shop - have local decision making choices and responsibilities, feel a sense of ownership, can construct meaning in what they do, have a shared vision and daily make a difference - so they find purpose and signifi cance in work. Independence comes before interdependence. This is the true "Learning Organisation" where mistakes are accepted (even welcomed) and employees are encouraged, empowered and engaged. We see the rise of "Networks & Communities of Practice (cf: Meg Wheatley)".

    The culture is positive, creative and generative and diverse people (customers, employees, employers, shareholders, and the community) are cooperative, collaborative partners in this enterprise. Few organisations reach these exalted heights of liberation and performance because of the necessity for all executives, senior managers and even line-managers to drop their "masks of command" and give away their power-base and associated privileges. It is a huge leap of faith. It requires a total mind-set shift; a commitment to honesty and authenticity; it requires absolute respect for others and granted trust; it requires adherence in action to personal values and it necessitates a dialogue around individual and organisational vision and meaning - stories and experiences told such that a shared direction, significance and purpose can be articulated and enacted. Everyone understands that leadership-followership (the two cannot be divided) is based on relationships which are inherently emergent, dynamic, situational and contextual - that the person or persons with the capability and opportunity take the lead for a while, while this is appropriate and meaningful, but willingly hand over the baton when the internal or external situation changes.

    If you want this level of flexibility and innovation, (and many traditional bureaucratic dinosaurs are still getting away with Transactional leadership for now) then the passionate, integral leader (whoever they may be) has to be real to be trusted with provisional, temporary 'power' over others. There can be no "mask of command", no acting, and no playing by a lop-sided set of rules initiated by the bosses for the bosses. Authentic leadership and beyond is the way to go.

    Cheers, Ian

     
     
     
    • Frances Pratt
    • Sales Director, Enspire Austalia

    In leadership and mgt you have to sometimes wear a mask. What you think isn't always appropriate to say and we must be careful (and caring) in the way we tell people difficult things. I do not believe that this makes us inauthentic. This speaks to George's point about 'leading with heart' and compassion and to 'self-discipline'.

    Like comment (18 - anon) I think that the trap is sometimes that people think that leaders have to be 'always on message'. This ought not to be confused with bringing humanity to leadership. We have to allow humanity to rule and accept that emotions will be brought to the office. They have a place and as leaders we need to allow (and demonstrate that we allow) all facets of humanity into our workplace.

    No one said it was easy - but I give one vote for reality and real masks (when needed).

     
     
     
    • Anonymous

    The very defining qualities of a true leader are those that don't need the 'masks of command'.

    A true leader is that who is truly accountable, charismatic, compassionate, conscientious, courageous, decisive, determined, empathetic, honest, insightful, passionate, principled, purposeful, resolute, self-disciplined, trustworthy and value oriented pursuer, performer and guide.

    These defining leadership qualities carry very high merits, making the mask wearing and true leadership behaviours almost mutually exclusive; and hence, they cannot coexist concurrently in one person.

    However, leaders are humans first who too have fears, limitations, self-doubts, self-interests, uncertainties, vulnerabilities and weaknesses, rendering them exposed to the possible negative psychological effects of those quirks. It is at these times, when the 'mask' offers an effective way of reducing the dissonance the situations create for them, but wearing the 'mask' momentarily takes their leadership qualities away, making the two things mutually nonexclusive though but never concurrently coexistent.

    As time permits their successive existence but not concurrent coexistence, whenever one wears the 'masks of command' one ceases to be a true leader and transforms into a conventional manager who looks for subordinates to carry out his / her commands.

    Therefore, to me, the answer to the question, "can the "masks of command" coexist with authentic leadership?" is negative.

     
     
     
    • Per-Arne Persson
    • Researcher, PhD, Swedish National Defence College

    I read with great interest all these comments and found neither in the article nor any comment a reference to John Keegan's excellent book titled 'The Mask of Command' (Keegan, J. (1987). The Mask of Command. London, Jonathan Cape.). Keegan provides examples from Alexander to Hitler, concluding that if there is a crack in the front, it will show up. A Janus face will emerge.

    I sympathize with no 18 - it is definitely important to demonstrate empathy, that there is a human being in the leader. However, many leaders do not stay in position, especially not in the military, long enough to face consequences, or to put it the other way round: Within organizations the assessment system is often very weak and captures only the mask, not the person.

    Or to use Shakespeare's words through his 'medium' Macbeth: A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, but signyfing nothing.

     
     
     
    • Anonymous

    In a small business environment the ability to "mask" may be the only way to command. With the reality of turbulent times, it becomes increasingly more difficult to be the authentic leader that everyone desires to hear the real truth from. The mask enables the leader to keep the office environment at an even keel, rather than levying the real truth that all may fear is inevitable.

     
     
     
    • David Physick
    • Principal Consultant, Glowinkowski International Ltd

    In considering one of the fundamentals of organisational psychology posited by Kurt Lewin in the 1950s it is absolutely necessary for a leader to act other than himself as defined by his personality or character. Lewin's 'formula' B = f(P x S), or actual behaviour is a function of personality and situation clearly indicates that personality is different to delivered behaviour. Indeed, we go so far to say that in organisations, especially reward systems (topical!), personality sucks; you get paid for delivering the right behaviour. Too many people, however, do not truly understand their personality and, therefore, simply cope with the situations they encounter. This is pressured and a causation of stress. The 'mask' can fall.

    Those individuals, especially leaders, who really understand themselves, e.g. how they think, how they engage with other people, and consciously and deliberately learn to 'act out of character' are, we find, the much more effective leaders over a sustained period, through both the good times and the bad. The measurement of personality can be carried out through a myriad of instruments, all of which claim to be highly valid statistically. We find many are conceptually flawed in not distinguishing whether they measure, in Lewin's terminology, the B or the P. Contextually, the measurement is conducted in a detached manner away from direct association with organisational performance.

    I encourage readers to think of the situations they encounter; which feel easier to manage - you are probably exercising behaviours closer to your true self - which feel harder to manage - why? In Financial arena, too many managers have been caught in situations where the required behaviours have been beyond their capability to deliver. They have reverted to type and the collapse has been precipitated. For instance, they haven't considered the possibility of failure of credit-risk models; the y haven't been able to ask the necessarily difficult questions either because of inadequate knowledge and/or sufficient courage.

    This entire discussion is one of the most important to have been hosted by Working Knowledge!

     
     
     
    • Anonymous

    As the GM of a small company I am currently faced with this exact dilemma. In less than 12 months business has gone down 46%, production is running at 12% capacity, the warehouse full and I am worried and scared. 25 people look up to me, every day, probably questioning every decision made, worried to death about their future and I see fear in their eyes.

    The question is not if the command mask can coexist with authentic leadership, but rather how it can not. I can not afford not to wear a mask of "everything will be okay" or chaos would soon follow.

     
     
     
    • Imelda Bickham

    There are leadership masks that are necessary and expected. In a time of crisis, people will need and expect their leader to show strength and resolve. The leader may be just as afraid as the troops, but he/she can't show it. As crazy as that is, the troops would not forgive a leader that shows his/her humanity.

    There are also leadership masks that are completely unnecessary and useless. Those are the masks that some leaders put on to uphold an image that they have carefully built and maintained. Those leaders may have reached a point where they believe that they truly are the image they have built. They no longer see their authentic self behind the mask: it's buried. In those instances, the masks of command are just an obstacle to true leadership and communication.

     
     
     
    • Sugeetha Kurada
    • Student, ICAI

    The main task of the leader is to have control over the given situation and get the Result, if a person is "Leader", he is authentic and he can't be Fake. Acting leaders are never leaders as they are just there to fill in the position. Now the question comes how one can be an authentic leader - By having the principles', values, objectives in line. Communicating to inspire, align and motivate. Empowered by listening, trusting, supporting.

    One can be authentic leader by being bold, optimistic, aware, proactive, collaborative, experimenting new things, having the courage to take chance, act and admit mistakes, being spontaneous and saying the truth, thinking for everyone and being fair.

    Can a person wear the mask of all the above said traits without adopting them and still be a leader ??

     
     
     
    • KS
    • Manager

    We have an age-old saying in India: "A lie that saves a life is worth more than a hundred truths."

    There are two issues here.

    Let's first agree (hypothetically) that if having a mask helps an organization more than an antagonistic position, then clearly the former is preferable.

    The second question is, does having a mask ever help? Well, that's a tough one to answer. The more important question is whether the appearance of being authentic is equally important. Put in other words, would a leader who is authentic be just as effective if he/she is perceived to be wearing a mask?

     
     
     
    • Tom
    • President/creative director, Baiting Brook Research/CHIEFTAIN STUDIO

    As much as I would like to side with the many comments that truly good managers possess a rare mixture of positive personal qualities, I'm not sure I can accept the premise.

    "Manager" is a role people play in life. It is, by definition, a mask. Successful managers reflect the goals, values and mores of the institution they represent more than the "authentic" person within. Some play the role well, others do not.

    Just as the seasoned actor draws from personal experience to bring emotion to the character they portray; the successful manager often leverages aspects of their true self to lead others. But in both cases, we see someone playing a role -- not the real individual.

    Everyone is multifaceted. We want to believe a good "manager" is also a good person. But that's not always the case. Someone can be a fantastic manager, but a hideously poor spouse, parent or citizen.

    We see most people contextually. We can only evaluate them within the confines of the circumstances we share. To say someone is "authentic" is meaningless unless you know the person in multiple facets of their life.

     
     
     
    • Dianne Jacobs
    • Founding Principal, The Talent Advisors, Melbourne, Australia

    Gender schemata cannot be ignored. As I discussed in my article 'Powerplay: Women, Leadership and the Getting of Power' (Ivey Business Journal, September 2007) the experience and consequences of practicing leadership will be different for women.

    If a women executive leads in exactly the same way as her male colleagues she gets labelled an 'alpha female' - not fully accepted by these men while alienating herself from other women and more so from her wellbeing and authentic self.

    If she adopts a gender-neutral view of the world, chances are the people around her will not. Further, her leadership will still produce dissimilar results due to her gender. Female power and authority is seen as different.

    Masking becomes one response. Feeling 'stuck' and wanting to succeed, executive women, as with non-dominant communities, can mask their true identity making decisions about which parts of themselves to hide and which parts to reveal. Having to make this choice, and adopt a survival script, women deny aspects of their life experience.

    Leadership enacts persona. However, for women, persistent stereotyping and the intense realities of corporate life takes its toll. The emotional cost is high.

     
     
     
    • DTL

    The idea of masks denotes pretense, which is the precise opposite of authenticity (the form of leadership under discussion here). So both should not, and cannot, exist concurrently.

    Why then the variety of responses? Bad, average and sometimes even good leaders resort to masks when a situation or context tests them severely. They see it as expedient, necessary, even a quality of leadership.

    However, great leaders - those who embody the various qualities and strengths of character enumerated above (which almost everyone agrees upon) - do not use masks even when the situation they face is grave. They are able to dig deeper, focus on a more fundamental truth, hold onto their values even when the situation challenges them to change who they are.

    They do not need to pretend that 'everything is okay' - but neither do they run for the hills. The authentic leader rises above the constraints and pressures of the moment to act in accordance with their best self. As is said about courage being not the absence of fear but the acting despite of it, so is authentic leadership - not the absence of the pressure to present an untruth, but the decision to remain authentic despite it, and to remain 'in charge' and inspiring through being authentic rather than otherwise.

     
     
     
    • Ajay Kumar Gupta
    • faculty, IBSAR Mgmt School, Belapur, Navi Mumbai

    The masks of command depend upon situation, culture and people. The first is driven by internal force and the other is driven by the external factors. The first is the core and second is the cover. As true nature of a person can not be changed by putting cover over it, similarly the true characteristics of authentic leadership can not be changed by putting masks over it. Authentic leadership nature is internally driven and directed by internal compass. Integrity is the integral part of an authentic leader and it is ingrained.

    And when it follows internal compass, it has four elements i.e. purpose, passion, value and integrity. On the other hand, when a leader uses masks of command, it is influenced and directed by external forces. In such circumstances, a leader may have purpose and passion but not necessarily value and integrity. Why because, value and integrity is internally driven and in fact ingrained in character of a leader.

    So, the question that authentic leadership coexists with masks of command depends on three things, i.e. situation, culture and leader. And authentic leader, according to the circumstances wear the masks of command. By wearing masks of command can not change his true and authentic character. However, using masks of command for a longer period of time, an authentic leader may conceal his true identity and eventually lose his true character temporarily. Excessive exposure to the situations, which often requires authentic leader to use masks of command, may divert the leader from his focus and goal. Let me quote three examples to understand clearly, how authentic leader and masks of command coexist.

    Example 1. When the authentic leader is surrounded by the X category of people and the work requires everyone to take responsibility, in this situation, authentic leader has to use masks of command to get the job done because X category of people, by their nature, will not take responsibility unless they are forced, directed or threatened. By using masks of command in such type of situation, authentic leader does not change his core nature. Therefore, authentic leader may use masks of command as per the situation and may coexist.

    Example 2. An organizational culture, which focuses only on profitability, sets unexpected and unattainable targets and has strong believer in hire and fire policy, may forces authentic leader to use masks. In such a culture, authentic leader has to use masks of command to achieve those targets, which may not match his true nature. This mask again does not change his true leadership style but masks of command require achieving those targets. Example3. Let me explain two situations; one: a leader teaching a group of people who are not disciplined and well mannered. Leader has to wear masks of command to control them. Showing any form of courtesy may produce negative result. On the other hand, when people are well mannered, leader will show his true form of style.

    Therefore, authentic leadership and masks of command coexist, depends upon situation, culture and people. When the situation, culture and people matches with the ingrained qualities and characteristic of an authentic leader, he will act in authentic manner, on the other hand when situations, culture and people do not match with the true characteristics of the leader, he has to use masks of command.

     
     
     
    • Kamal Gupta
    • CEO, Delta Petro

    A true leader has to be authentic - 100% so. Even if she/he is at times worried or down, that should show. Because the followers know that the leader, like them, is also human.

    I wouldn't trust a guy who never displays a weakness or a weak moment, though i would expect her/him to be resilient and fight back.

    Speaking the truth with your team always helps. It builds trust. If you have stuck your neck out for your team - I often have - you will always get a reciprocal action.

     
     
     
    • Richard Strasser

    While sometimes "masks" are needed in the very short term (eg, don't show any panic in times of extreme stress), in the medium and long term they really work. People are very sensitive and pick up a lack of authenticity very quickly.

    But to lead with authenticity, a leader needs to be very comfortable with who he is as a person. Not all leaders are comfortable with themselves.

     
     
     
    • shadreck saili
    • uct

    when a leader builds a mask around him/her an element of confidence and inferiority complex contributes greatly to such behavour. You tend to hide any chances of exposing incompetencies from the subordinates. By so doing you close yourself from learning.

     
     
     
    • Corinne McElroy
    • CEO, Edge Of Change

    I love the thread on this topic. I wonder how the leaders not being in alignment with self, mirrors the organization being out of alignment as a whole?

     
     
     
    • Ravi Parimi
    • Cisco

    I think being authentic is a choice. A leader has to pay attention to the fact that the temporary tends to endure, that what is external permeates to the inside, and the "mask", given time, comes to the face itself...I can see both coexist as long as the person is strong enough.

     
     
     
    • Jane Clarke
    • Project management Consultant, City of Port Phillip

    The mask/s of command are dangerous in my experience because they actually make organisations and people believe they can manage more than is humanly possible. The notion that great leaders shouldn't show weariness etc perpetuates the myth that they can do it all on their own. That is exactly the time a great leader will empower his team to help her / him lead and share the load. I personally believe the workplace would be a far more productive place if we were more honest about how much we can actually fit into one day and allow the 'humaness' back into the workplace. I also believe we are more prepared to 'walk over hot coals' for people who do not try and hide their weaknesses or be super human. I see a difference between 'heroes' in time of crisis and leaders. Having worked with police for many years I agree that the operating style of command and control has a place in emergency situations but as the enquiry into the recent bu shfires here in Victoria, Australia has highlighted on many occasions command and control can lead to the old adage 'too many chiefs' as everyone tries to be the leader. I think that situation is more about everyone knowing who's in charge and what the game plan is rather than wearing a mask of command.

     
     
     
    • Balaraman
    • CEO, Boardroom Advantage

    Teams form around a lofty purpose; a true leader is one who is inseparable from this clear and consistent purpose.He is so committed to this great ,all consuming purpose that he seeks help and support from every one in his team and outside ;these outsiders may then become part of his "informal team".Anyone who the leader manages to inspire to contribute to his relentless lofty purpose in fact becomes his "team".

    The team "members" both within and outside the formal team contribute all they can willingly because they see genuine commitment and passion on the part of the leader in serving The Purpose. The inspirational leader evangelises his cause all the time; and over time that Purpose becomes the super ordinate goal for every one in the "team". They find meaning in serving this lofty purpose. What is "lofty" about this purpose?

    In matter of fact it is often a simple purpose but a purpose to improve some one's [customers' or consumers'] life in some manner today, tomorrow and the day after-for ever and ever. The team pulls together because ego in such a situation is absent. No individual is important; the Purpose alone is important. That alone is super ordinate. The Leader leads in subjugating himself, his ego if you will to this Lofty yet Simple Purpose to enhance the life of the consumer in some manner. The team is unified-by him, by his dedication to his cause, the Purpose - behind THE PURPOSE! In such a situation where is the role for any masks of command?

     
     
     
    • Brian Woodward
    • Faculty, The Banff Centre

    The Bennis quote has sparked a number of insightful comments and passionate responses and to come to them at this point affords an opportunity to comment on the comments and in doing so provide another perspective on mask and leadership. To this point the vast majority of comments have assumed that mask and authenticity are mutually exclusive. If a leader must wear a mask then his/her authenticity may be questioned. A mask is seen to be something that hides and is therefore un-authentic even, if at times, it is considered necessary.

    If we look to the theatre for another perspective, most actors who use mask know that the mask both 'conceals and reveals'. The mask may cover the face (usually) but in doing so it reveals the body. The mask holds one part of the body frozen in place while the rest of the body is available for expression and 'reading' by an audience. This is not unlike the role of leader in which the role acts much like a mask. The role of leader, as defined by the community, requires anyone who occupies that role to display certain behaviours and attitudes and to hide or curtail others. The role, as mask, allows the occupant to express certain parts of him/herself and to hide others (much like any role such as 'parent' or 'professional'). Taking this perspective, the leader must then become very intimate with their mask of leadership. The leader does not accept the mask as it is but brings him/herself to the mask to shape and form it to 'fit the face'. The individual leader has a great deal to say about what goes into the mask, its shape, its colours, what it holds frozen and what it reveals. This is where authenticity comes in. If this 'shaping' of the mask can be done with imagination and creativity then the mask will allow that imagination to be expressed and there is nothing more authentic than one's own imagination.

    A leader's mask is the exact point where two worlds meet - the interior and the exterior. It represents the intersection point, the active interface, the conversation zone between these two worlds where the leader's psychology and culture meet, intermingle and create the dance of leading. The most important and powerful conversations occur between the individual leader and his / her leader's mask.

     
     
     
    • Jonathan Smith
    • Marketing Consultant

    It's interesting how many comments seem to imply these are mutually exclusive alternatives.

    There is no inherent inconsistency between being true to one's own moral compass AND adopting particular roles when appropriate.

    Being authentic is NOT the same as being transparent.

    There's a fair amount of work which suggests successful leaders over the long term must be flexible enough to adopt different 'styles' of leadership in different situations, like different tools for different jobs.

    This does NOT mean they abandon their values.

     
     
     
    • Srini
    • Director, Hewlett Packard

    As stated in the beginning there's NO simple answer to this question. But I believe part of the reason for this dilemma is we are mixing up "Managers" with "Leaders".

    I think "Authentic Leaders" do not have the need for a mask. Many of us are also "Managers" and more true in the corporate world - It's then that you find there are various shades of "Authenticity" ...

     
     
     
    • Kapil Kumar Sopory
    • Company Secretary, SMEC (India) Private Limited

    An authentic leader creates a leadership of trust and trust emanates from unpolluted genuineness of whatsoever s/he does. Their core values include integrity, straightforwardness, understanding, excellence, unity, responsibility and transparency. They call a spade a spade and do not beat about the bush. They express at the back of others only what they can tell them on their face later on.

    Such leaders are really genuine and not stage or screen artists feigning various characters with whom they infact do not align at all. They set standards for themselves and become good examples for others. They do not hesitate to tell the hard truths and foster a spirit of tenacious creativity.

    Actions of leaders on as well as off their working platforms are under critical watch and they cannot escape being caught wearing "masks of command" and when this happens their image takes a nosedive.

    Masking one's innermost feelings can be possible but not the day-to-day professional behaviours. There may, however, be occasions when genuine effort is made to be tactful in times of crises so as not to create panic and chaos. However, even in such situations, the leader must work on correctives with urgent concern.

     
     
     
    • Shabbir Merchant
    • Chief Value Creator, Valulead Consulting, India

    It is a strange paradox that "Authentic Leaders need Authentic Organisations to practice their Authentic Leadership". The practical reality is that not all organisations are fertile enough for authentic leaders to make a positive impact. Somewhere this results in leaders adopting a style which is not their own but what the boards really want.

    As a society if we want more authentic leaders in the corporate world, surely many leaders who currently are forced to put on a mask will shed it and attempt to follow their calling.

    Regards,

     
     
     
    • Bill George
    • Professor of Management Practice, Harvard Business School

    After reading all 50 of these readers' most thoughtful commments, I come away inspired about the insights about authenticity and what it takes to lead an organization, large or small.

    My sincere thanks to Jim Heskett for stimulating this discussion with your article on the subject.

     
     
     
    • Leamon Duncan
    • U.S. Army

    I believe that the more authentic and genuine a leader is the more likely others will follow. I have seen all too many times leaders that portray an authentic persona, but in actuality they are very self-centered and their style is all about them. The leadership position they fill is a stepping stone to the next promotion. These people are very transparent and subordinates will figure them out in no time.

    In John Maxwell's book, Developing the Leader Within You (1993, p.5), he talks about five levels of leadership where leaders develop from position (level 1) to personhood (level 5). The level one leader is the leader who is the leader because of the position they hold, not because of the person they are. Whereas people will follow the level five leader because of who they are and what they represent (Maxwell, 1993, p. 5).

    I do agree with the writer of posting #11 above in that sometimes leaders must mask feelings and emotions in order to exhibit calm in the midst of chaos. In his book, In Extemis Leadership (2007), U.S. Army Colonel and Ph.D, Thomas Kolditz, notes that "fear is contagious" (p. 122). Kolditz (2007, p. 122) further states that "the in extremis interpretation of that idea [fight or flight response] is that it's easier to remain in an outward orientation through relaxation and focus than it is to shake the self-absorption and fear once emotions have taken over and one's focus is inward." It's after the battle when the leader shares how they actually felt or the range of emotions they were experiencing. That's what lets your people know you are also human.

    The difference between the authentic, in extremis leader and the disingenuous leader is that eventually the facade displayed by the disingenuous leader will ultimately show through and subordinates will see right through them. Be who you are, lead how you prefer to be led.

     
     
     
    • Richard Neff
    • GE Capital

    Bill George offers an excellent perpective on what authentic leadership is to him. It's advice that anyone can benefit from and apply to their own careers and lives.

    It is amazing to me that the question of authentic leadership is even something to consider. The is no right or one way to lead, just as there is no one way to achieve satisfaction or success in any life pursuit. It should, however, always be authentic. Otherwise it's not leadership at all.

     
     
     
    • Fritz
    • USCG (ret.)

    Authenticity is the name given to all masks worn with such conviction, naturalness and integrity that to actor and audience they seem not to be masks. Those who complain about masks and inauthentic people are really complaining about badly worn masks. The well-worn mask is a courtesy to others. It is a social and professional obligation.

     
     
     
    • Joe Schmid
    • Managing Principal, Oak Leaf Consulting, LLC

    "Authentic" is defined as worthy of trust and reliance. Whether a person is or isn't "authentic" is determined by the pattern of actions over time that establish a factual basis of conformance to "something". What that something is can range from criminal to sainthood.

    Central to the notion of authentic is constancy of purpose whose roots lie in the firmness of a person's beliefs that have melded into a non-conflicting philosophy, whether business or life, that drive principled behavior. None of us know what we truly believe until we are confronted by adversity - the "crucible" as George put it.

    A central question is whether or not a person can rise in an organization without ever having their beliefs tested in the fires of adversity. Probably to a point. The tipping point comes when they are put in a position where going along to get along isn't possible. They are now accountable for what "along" is. That's when the masks begin to pop up and the theatrics begin if the person is not rock solidly grounded in their beliefs and convictions.

    I'll simply the question by substituting "two faced" for "mask" - Can a two faced leader be "authentic"? Within the context of this discussion - Absolutely not. Is there a time to put on a mask - the opportunities for a leader come up daily, and it would be easy and it is more than inviting to do so - but the price - loss of authenticity. Authenticity doesn't include flinching.

     
     
     
    • George K
    • Corp Acct Mgr

    You pose an interesting question. Thank you for identifying a troubling aspect of Corporate America.

    "Can a leader be authentic, or do the masks of command ... force the leader to be something other than his or her true self? Can a leader both act and be real?"

    In response, the masks of command can be so overwhelming that it will suppress the leadership qualities in an individual. In many cases everyone will look the same, act the same. In this environment leaders do not pop to the surface, like a bobber on a fishing line. So how do you identify the leaders? I come from a large sales organization where commands are daily and create a robot response, identifying leaders can be hard.

    Thank you for a thought provoking article.

     
     
     
    • Amy Hanenburg
    • Asst. Controller, Southfield Corporation

    I completely agree with the attributes Bill George sites as elements of leadership. Having a passion for one's work while "practicing solid values" and "demonstrating self-discipline" are unquestionably paramount to leading a company.

    It should also be noted that it's equally important that "authentic leaders" embody a healthy sense of stewardship coupled with a keen vision. Managers and underlings look to leaders for guidance and want to share in that vision. In today's economy, now more than ever, underlings crave a vision they can adopt - a vision that will enable them to take ownership and contribute to the success of a company. True leaders nurture these cravings.

    Sadly, it's all too easy for leaders to get caught up in their own self-centered vision and lose sight of the health of a company and/or nation. Cases in point are both the leaders of the banking industry and our elected officials. With the administration of TARP, greed and a hunger for power replaced passion and integrity in both the private and government sectors. Banking officials were allowed to milk a system they helped design and build (on a proverbial house of cards) without any real repercussions. The only thing they "learn[ed] from people" is how to ensure their parachute was golden when they walked away from their "leadership" role.

    Thanks for the article and the opportunity to respond. I only wish more of our corporate leaders truly personified Bill George's aforementioned characteristics.

     
     
     
    • Elias S. Cohen
    • Management Consultant

    The article is limited to leadership style within an organization. In such situations there may well be an ever present aura of hierarchical relationship which can influence "command and control tactics" however masked. There are related situations which offer significant differences. These are encountered in situations of regulatory relationships, particularly in the case of governmental agency personnel responsible for regulating a non-governmental enterprise. Here, command and control tactics may be a dominant choice, although there is considerable literature that indicates to the contrary. "Authenticity" and its accompanying passion and commitment may not be sufficient. In long term medical care situations, considerations of safety may outweigh considerations of therapeutic efficacy. Public opinion and sentiment may trump therapeutic outcomes. This suggests limitations in the model presented--at least limitations to organization with a nice linear line of authority.

     
     
     
    • Sameer
    • Sr. Executive, TAL Manufacturing Solutionms Ltd

    Leaders should be BORN Leaders. Although leadership treats can be developed after a serious thought-out training plan, what would emerge out of it is LEARNED Leadership & not BORN Leadership.

    All of us are Leaders if we believe so. It is just that we very easily learn to follow but not to lead. I other words we choose to follow rather than leading. Therefore we all must love to LEAD instead FOLLOW.

     
     
     
    • Dr. Hemjith Balakrishnan
    • Group. Sr. Vice President- Strategy & HR, Health Prime Services (I) Pvt. Ltd

    I am reminded once again of James MacGregor Burn's oft quoted saying "Leadership is one of the most observed and least understood phenomena on earth... to comment on this article.

    "Leadership is a myth or not? I am getting mixed feelings as to whether half of the stuff people associate with leadership qualities exist or not? And can it exist under any circumstances?

    With only pure 'reality' one cannot lead. You need stuff which is just 'myth' and deceptive for people to get intoxicated and believe many non-existing virtues in their leaders and pull on with hope generated by such myth. For Myth constantly generates false hopes and hope is HOPE whether false or genuine. As both work wonders on people who just need an imaginary support to drive through imaginary troubles? When half our troubles too are only imaginary and hence a myth, it is not surprising that another myth acts as a remedy.

    However we are yet to come across a person who has been trained by an agency or individual who was worth emulating, to emerge as a leader solely by virtue of the training or learning from them. If at all he is accepted as another leader, it is because he acted on his own and charted a new path different from all the previous ones. And most of the time , nothing to with the supplies from the Leadership Industry.

    I think the time has come to challenge it. Challenge the very existence of the myth called Leadership. I feel strongly that Leadership is a label you put conveniently on guys who are successful. Anyone successful in market place is deemed to have leadership qualities. The proof of this concept is - Can this Industry spot someone as "Leader in the making" who is yet to make a mark just by the attributes he has and predict his success ?

    What about those so called leaders? How would you rate their success? Where is the catch? What made them successful? And get branded as so called `Leaders'.

    I believe, it is plain 'Ownership'. If we extend our sense of ownership to our organization, our reflexes include the organization's well being - a sense of total belonging - people working with me, their well being becomes my well being. The moment the sense of ownership is infused in a relationship, the reflexes take over - you cease to think and debate - you start to feel and react. Thinking cannot produce spontaneous reaction. There is always latency in thinking. But feeling is spontaneous. It delivers the reaction 100% without transmission loss. But it should originate from a center of purity without selfish motives and there lies the essence of leadership or authenticity in leadership which I mean is nothing but ownership.

     
     
     
    • Appolo Goma
    • Head of Supply & Distribution, Notore Chemical Industries Limited

    Authentic leadership would always outlive masked leadership anyday. While authentic leadership builds permanent respect with followership, masked leadership will only work over specificic periods or situations and would not stand the test of time.

    Leadership revolves around honesty and open communication with your followers. No matter how tough a situation if you have the trust of your people because your are authentic it can be managed properly with positive results.

     
     
     
    • Khadija Khan
    • Acting Section Head - Technical Cooperation Quality Assurance Section, International Atomic Energy Agency

    Defining Leadership criteria is easy, as we all have very high expectations from a person called 'The Leader'. However, assessing a leader for authenticity on the criteria is highly subjective. Unmasking unauthentic leadership might lead to a great despair. Let us keep in mind that even great leaders might have weak moments in life and might not meet all the criteria all the time.

    Let me tell you a story.

    Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) was a great leader. At one point, he was holding a meeting with elders of an opposition tribe, and then a person with sight impairment approached him and asked a question. The Prophet felt irritated and ignored him. He (the prophet) received an admonishment from Allah for ignoring the seeker of knowledge (the person).

    This incidence is being related in the Holy Quran. A realistic view of leadership.

     
     
     
    • Rahul S Dogar
    • HoliSol Logistics

    Well, a very interesting topic and the debate on this can be endless. The clear definition of words is important and what is also important is the expectations from the leaders in an organization in the situation that an organisation is.

    Personally, i would say that an authentic leader would stand by her convictions irrespective of the situation and the expectations following 'true north' without caring for the obituary being written. The most important test of all the tests for any authentic leader is the test of time....whether she can exhibit true leadership over and over again!

    The question gains even more significance in the wake of happenings over the last one year and it will gain more and more significance with the lessons learnt from the past one year.

    It is also important to note that the examples of authentic leadership are plenty and glaring in fields other than business, most notably politics. Whatever it is, one thing is for sure that this debate has seen a lot of 'monetarily' successful people now 'trying hard' to become authentic leaders, trying hard to buy respect though their use of money power and media. What will be interesting to see is whether they succeed, and how do they succeed!

     
     
     
    • Paulo Wilson Rodrigues
    • Engineering Student, EEL.USP.BR

    Leadership is to be trusthworthy, even if you fail. Certainly to get success it is a little more difficult, but when you do it is due to your team's job.

    Thank you.

     
     
     
    • Luther Bois Anukur
    • Executive Director, Panos Eastern Africa

    Leadership is often qualified as being either good or bad, and the verdict is often based on the impact it has on others. Leadership is a role that involves managing self and influencing others towards a common purpose.

    By being authentic a leader is human and genuine. Not being authentic is implies being manipulative to achieve a certain purpose. This may sometimes get applause from the spectator audience but leave the leader empty or other times leave both the leader and the would be followers disillusioned. The results are usually temporal.

    What is debate seems to be, how does a leader change his style given varying circumstances?. This is what is called wisdom...the ability to apply knowledge and other skills to respond appropriately to a given situation. This process should be done genuinely if the results are to stand the test of time, and create sustainable impact and a great legacy.

     
     
     
    • Wisdom Chitedze
    • Audit Manager, World Vision International Malawi

    The assumptions are:

    1. Great Leadership is always the product of consistent and conscious "self-birthing" i.e. that great leaders have themselves figured out, values defined, weaknesses overcome etc. Some may be so, but to generalize it is a flaw.

    2. Great leaders are consistent from one context to another. Integrity could be defined like that but many would agree that it is impossible for ALL the qualities that one needs to be shown in a $1 billion corporation could also be shown by the same leader when he is volunteering at the Local Red Cross, or when he is home with his family. "Masking" or "Role Playing" thus becomes necessary and has nothing to do with deception, it has everything to do with adapting. It enables one to observe and respond according to the people, context and challenges faced.

    3. Leaders are supposed to be flawless "superhero" types. Because a lot of lives and resources depend on good leadership, it is reasonable to expect certain character aspects of those we entrust to lead. But I think we tend to forget that the leaders are also human beings. They are dealt with less compassion when flaws or failings come to light. It could be argued that those who choose Leadership have accepted the cost and its consequences. That as it may be, just as Leaders need to lead with heart and compassion, those who follow should also follow and judge with heart and compassion. That is not to say that when moral failings show poor judgement that may reflect on other aspects of leadership, leaders should be let off the hook. But it seems that humans love to put people on pedestals and then love to see them fall. (They are just like the rest of us, it seems to remind us).

    4. There is an Art or Science to leadership. Ever since humans could articulate through symbols, language and literature the things they say or heard or thought, there have always been schools of thought on everything including Leadership. And in the past 200 years a lot has been said. Thus we see that what Leadership is different not just from Age to Age, but also from culture to culture responding to different problems, infused with different religious or supersticious beliefs, the personalities of those who led, histories of different peoples etc.

    To the making of books there is no end, and learning is vexation to the Soul says one book. Yet it also says Wisdom and Knowledge are always better than foolishness and ignorance.

    With increasing populations, mushrooming diversities of communities, new ways of doing both good and evil as humans we do need Leadership and we cannot always leave it to chance. Thus the thoughts shared are vital to our common body of knowledge, in the quest for a better humanity.

     
     
     
    • Noaman A. Al-Saleh
    • Media & CSR Manager, ENOC

    Leadership has more than one definition, that makes it a very flexible method of power and E.I. However, throughout the centuries, leadership had been brought forward by great writers, philosophers and scholars. All in which they agreed that it all boils down to Emotional Intelligence. The 3rd point which was mentioned by Bill George book "authentic leadership". Which allow us all to think is it a gift or something we acquire through our life and learning.

    Sun Tzu, in one of his 13 art of war mentioned the use of Spy who by somehow have the tendency to deceive and manipulate to get the result in which it reflect on the leadership of who ever in seek of it.

    A handful of Leadership Guru's who had written books and highlighted their points on the subject. If we look closer at each point written of each writer and compare them we will come to a result that leader should be more flexible in all sort of their activities and result because every finding build another opportunity of growth and escalation.

     
     
     
    • Sharika Kaul
    • Business & Media Strategist

    A good leader can also act when necessary. The reason why leaders become leaders is because they can put forth a self that motivates, charms, channels all and sundry into the right path - towards goals that have to be achieved. This self may sometimes be scared or troubled about decisions that s/he has to take. But will this self be put forth easily to the immediate team? Think not. Not if s/he wishes to shake the morale of the team. Leaders are finally human beings with lots of greys. It is unreasonable to expect that, people in leadership positions may not sometimes act to get things done. This being said, the core operative remains unchanged no matter what the circumstance - ethics, integrity, honour. One can't pretend to have these or even fake it for a while.

     
     
     
    • Plotinus

    As the actors of our stages get their masks and their costume, robes of state or rags, so a Soul is allotted its fortunes, and not at haphazard but always under a Reason: it adapts itself to the fortunes assigned to it, attunes itself, ranges itself rightly to the drama, to the whole Principle of the piece: then it speaks out its business, exhibiting at the same time all that a Soul can express of its own quality, as a singer in a song. A voice, a bearing, naturally fine or vulgar, may increase the charm of a piece; on the other hand, an actor with his ugly voice may make a sorry exhibition of himself, yet the drama stands as good a work as ever: the dramatist, taking the action which a sound criticism suggests, disgraces one, taking his part from him, with perfect justice: another man he promotes to more serious roles or to any more important play he may have, while the first is cast for whatever minor work there may be.

    Just so the Soul, entering this drama of the Universe, making itself a part of the Play, bringing to its acting its personal excellence or defect, set in a definite place at the entry and accepting from the author its entire role- superimposed upon its own character and conduct- just so, it receives in the end its punishment and reward.

     
     
     
    • Beryl Deskin
    • President, Deskin Leadership Communications

    What a curious and interesting conversation! But I submit that there's a dimension of the proposed question that has yet to be comprehensively addressed. There has been much discussion on this forum about the "masks." But the far more powerful word, worthy of greater scrutiny as a leadership attribute, is the other noun-verb, "command"!

    This past week, after I read comments on this forum, I posed the "masks of command" topic to several groups of businesswomen. Discussion about the "masks" elicited a variety of opinions. But it was the word "command" that incited visceral, negative responses, to a person. Many women, with varying degrees of professional influence and power, find it inappropriate to assume that "command" is a synonym for leadership.

    In the US (especially given the recent months of job loss) 50% of the workforce is female. But still a larger percentage of organizational leaders are male. The implied image of men "commanding and controlling" women is not comfortable to accept. Why perpetuate it by continuing to use the word?

    Similarly, I posed this "mask of command" topic to employees of one of my larger client organizations. They were predominantly Gen Ys (i.e. 20 - 35 years old), the largest cadre in the workforce these days. They also took issue with the word "command." To them "command" implied micro-managing and over-stating authority.

    After the charged responses to the word "command", I asked my mini-research subjects to tell more about their feelings about the word "masks". Women were not overly concerned that leaders might have to present "masks" to achieve their objectives. Several commented that, "After all, we have to do that too."

    The younger folks had a similar feeling but for different reasons ... they have lived in the world of Avatars, Second Life, video games and other social media, where it is not only easy to put on different "masks" but part of the process. They also are the group who most frequently has to readjust their own "masks" as they move from job to job. They could understand, as attributed to Warren Bennis in Comment #10, "theatrically masking and taking on different poses may well be a necessary leadership competency."

    I pressed both the women and Gen Ys for alternative language to contribute something positive to this discussion. They kept the word "masks" and dropped the word "command". Here are some of their suggestions: "masks of experience" "masks of decision-making" "masks of collaboration", how about ... "masks of leadership"?

    All of this begs the question for thought leaders. Why are we still holding on to language of the 20th Century (known to have had the most widespread command and control leadership in world history) when we're already a full decade into the 21st Century?

     
     
     
    • Richard A. "Tony" Eckel
    • President, Systems Synergy, Inc.

    Too often, access to leadership opportunities require the ambitious candidate to be circumspect in order to effectively compete for advancement. Superior candidates are dominated by competitive aspirants skewing objective leadership measures through masking of inferior authentic attributes.

    If poor advancement selection were a self-correcting fault, there would be no discussion. The real danger is that once responsibility is passed to the less capable, they will self select in their image (or worse); ego selecting ego over substance.

    In good times, the risk to an enterprise is that some of the profit opportunities are lost to poor decisions. It is in bad times that the real threat of poor leadership results in catastrophe as the narrow gap between survival and demise of the enterprise is either denied or ignored.

    At the end of every boom cycle, laymen are able to quickly identify the leadership failures and analyze routes to enterprise disaster. B-Schools do a plethora of case studies that seem to germinate new fast-track schemes to the corner office, rather than act as cautionary tales to team and mission breakdown. At the heart of every leadership failure seems to be an overly ambitious individual who loses sight of the fact that competition belongs in the marketplace, and not in the workplace.

    Boom times breed pretensions, and tough times weed them out. Business evolution at its core; survival of the fittest. It should be our enterprise goal to invest in leadership that can survive in the down cycles, not look pretty in the up cycle. The danger is failure to select the authentic leader, paying the price with our prosperity for that error.

    It is a compelling corollary to incompetence that business distress will often identify the competent/authentic leader who is both capable and willing to restore life to a viable company after disaster, while the phony seeks out flourishing companies to consume.

    Can the "masks of command" coexist with authentic leadership? Never! Authentic leaders never feel the need or desire to deceive.

     
     
     
    • Anonymous

    A simple opinion: The authentic leader reflects at the end of days: "Did I achieve my goal(s)? And how do I feel about it?" Therein lies the revelation. And perhaps they will consider the value of donning masks. Or not...

     
     
     
    • David Broderick
    • Director, Global Services Delivery, CAI

    Great discussion on Leadership and I agree with the elements of "authentic leadership" as explained by Bill George. To answer the question "can the "masks of command" coexist with authentic leadership?" one must also look at the perspective of the followers.

    Many people believe (falsely) that a great leader has no flaws. The main reason masks exist is for leaders to hide their flaws from their followers. In so doing, the belief is they will be perceived as a strong leader. However, once those flaws are uncovered (as they eventually will be), then the "leader" loses his strength and no longer has followers.

    When following an "authentic leader", one gets strength from the leader's passion, integrity, personal connection, and their resolve to make things happen. A good leader shares a vision for the future that is compelling, but does not try to carry the entire burden themselves. Actually, what I have found is when a leader combines a passionate vision with the reality of their own weaknesses, their followers respond by helping to fill in the gaps and also feel more ownership of the journey and outcome.

    This is most obvious when leading people from different backgrounds and different countries. From my perspective, the key to authentic leadership is to demonstrate the confidence regarding your passionate vision, while also demonstrating the courage to share the areas that need the most support to make that dream happen.

    Therefore, the "masks of command" cannot coexist with authentic leadership.

     
     
     
    • Edgar Miller
    • General Manager, Truck Enterprises Inc

    One of my leadership mentors once told me that leadership requires that we know where we sit before we can stand. As leaders we must understand who we are, what our strengths and weaknesses are and come to terms with those. Indeed the first key to Emotional Intelligence is understanding oneself. Covey's 7 Habits start with private victories that are required to be effective as a person or I would argue a leader.

    If leaders are true to themselves and the external is congruent with the internal, they can and should be willing to make themselves vulnerable (remove the mask) to those that they lead in a manner that builds relationships and forms a bond with them. Authentic leaders move toward those that they lead. They seek to serve, to reach out.

    It is this relationship, this vulnerability that forms the foundation for success as a leader, as a team, and as an organization. This foundation allows the leader to be situational in their leadership. It allows for communication to genuine. It calms fears, and concerns that these economic times engender.

    Authentic leaders who refuse to wear the mask also can leverage the strengths of those they lead, in areas where the leader needs help in managing the organization. It gives freedom for the exchange of ideas, for team management, and for reaching a consensus on the best way the organization can function. It allows for fearless decent that can deter group think.

    But without the leaders self knowledge, their moving toward followers, and being willing to serve, this foundation is weak. The freedom of people and thus the organization to perform to the fullest extent is limited when the leader is less than genuine. Leaders deceive themselves if they think those that follow do not see through the mask. They will even if what they think they see is a misrepresentation.

    Too many leaders do not understand the importance of being genuine and authentic. Indeed I think it is the essence of successful leadership.

     
     
     
    • Thomas Arneson
    • President, Focus Consulting LLC

    "In fact, are there times, as Bennis asks, when it is necessary to avoid being authentic? Are these contradictory notions? Or can the 'masks of command' coexist with authentic leadership? What do you think?"

    As I approach the last phase of my career I wonder if I have been authentic. As a Coach and Consultant I see managers and leaders wrestle with the same concern. Each one defines the notion of what authentic is differently, for me it is to act with integrity, the ability to function in light of purpose no matter what the surrounding turmoil. Is this a choice, as the anonymous small plant GM in post 31 points out, NO.

    Most leaders I have worked say the challenge is balancing roles, leader and manager. In both cases they are "authentic" however, by definition a manager directs activity and leaders inspire. In both roles the masks of command require authenticity.

    We live in an imperfect world. We are reminded of this eloquently by Mr. Khan in post 62.

    Tom Arneson

     
     
     
    • Jyoti Sharma
    • Vice President, India SME Asset Reconstruction Company Ltd

    Some leaders do wear "mask of command". They are not very passionate about work, are not very committed but are good at delegating work and do not hesitate to pass on the credit to their subordinates for the good work done.Eventhough these persons can't be considered authentic leaders, yet at the same time they can be considered fair as they let the development of their subordinates happen and the goals are also achieved.

     
     
     
    • Ganesh Ramakrishnan
    • Vice President - Human Resources, Oracle Financial Services Software Ltd., http://itftd.blogspot.com

    Consciously worn masks are seen as necessary in certain situations, and do not imply lack of authenticity when done for achieving the collective purpose of the organization within legal and moral parameters. Basic management development programmes therefore highlight the need for keeping one's emotions under control, conveying an optimistic vision to the team, cultivating patient listening and so on.

    As a person rises in levels of leadership, it becomes increasingly necessary to tilt the scale towards inner and outer alignment in order to continue being an effective leader. At some point, the visibility, frequency and variety of interactions, and the difficulty of consciously managing masks (images) makes it inevitable for the leader to be authentic. I believe the web era has also contributed to this, where it is difficult for leaders to carefully manage their public images.

    One thing that troubles me is that accurate analysis of the success of an authentic leader is possible only in hindsight. Would some of the Enron/WorldCom leaders have been hailed as successful and authentic leaders in the late 1990s? Perhaps.

    A realistic look around the business world tells us that authenticity has not yet become an acknowledged core competency but we are getting there.

     
     
     
    • John Georgescu
    • Radiology Systems Administrator, Norwalk Hospital

    This forum seems to confirm what I have noticed in my limited life experience: the masks of command coexist with authentic leadership. Of course there are always degrees north or south: leaders blend these two attitudes in all the possible combinations ranging from 100% authentic and 0% mask (100/0) to 50/50 and to 0% authentic and 100% mask (0/100). However, I could not find an example where a leader is at the extremes 0/100 or 100/0. We can debate theoretically about the extremes but it seems it would be just a philosophical discussion.

    A few years ago in school, I have found out about a marketing principal: "what is in it for me?", which seems to be most likely driver for a leader. Later on in my life at work, I have discovered another fact: leader have personal agendas. It is unfortunately the news broadcast predominately the spectacular business failures where the leaders' personal interests doom a company. I would attribute the failures to 99% masks and 1% authentic.

    Because I like examples from my life experience, here is the last example. After a couple years out from college a senior VP has shared with me an astonishing fact from his life: virtually there are no profitable companies. This fact could be the subject of another debate, but for just the sake of reasoning let's accept it as true. The conundrum is: does it really matter if the mask can coexist with authentic leadership when the result is the same, the company has no profit and it is a waste of resources, i.e. time, money and people. What can we do to change that and make most companies profitable?

     
     
     
    • Jeremy Vogan
    • Project Manager, Construction

    Again I have to cast my lot with Charlie. A mask is only as good as the truth it conveys. If I'm putting on a mask to hide my emotions at a critical point in my leadership path, the message it sends (to the discerning) is that the wellbeing of my people is more important to me than is my need to be understood or even appreciated. Any leader who cannot do this will certainly not last long, because if the average worker could handle the pressure that is quietly carried by the CEO every day, there would be no need for leadership. Because the need for leadership does exist, however, my masks are necessary but they must be translucent.

    This conscious decision to select what people see in order to best provide direction and motive must be able to bear the intense scrutiny of the daily decision-making process, or it will quickly spell ruin for the leader - whether junior or senior. I recall the story of the Arleigh Burke contract at Bath Iron Works in the early 90's when the CEO made a snap decision to compromise the integrity of the bid process, costing him his position. Whether he was at heart a moral man only he knows (would any of us truly enjoy answering that question honestly?), but it is certain that because of one moment of poor judgment, those around him were forced to reconsider the reputation they had rightfully ascribed to him for many years. If the "mask of command" that he had worn had shown a face that was more human, so to speak, and conveyed the reality of the measure of imperfection that every one of us can identify with, perhaps when that mask momentarily slipped off the conseq uences would not have been so earth-shattering? No one knows.

    But I know that oftentimes the temptation I fall into is that of projecting an image of complete success, of achievement so spectacular that no other person could have pulled it off, of competence that shrinks from no challenge and accepts nothing less than perfection. This is simply wrong. The best thing that ever happened to my career was getting fired from the first executive position I ever held, for reasons that are still unknown to me. Even though I failed, life went on; the world kept on turning; my wife and kids still loved me; my friends still liked me; and there were still companies out there that were interested in hiring me to do what I love. And as I lead people in the pursuit of excellence from Monday to Friday, I try to convey the truth of this reality with the masks I wear.

    Jeremy