On Authenticity: Time to rip off the mask

Who are you going to be today?

One way leaders use a mask is to conceal perceived inadequacies and flaws to preserve the polished facade we have come to expect of “great” leaders. The other, more subtle way is to adopt a certain persona at work that the leader feels is necessary for success. Both uses undermine trust and effectiveness. They also create inner conflict, as leaders struggle to align their work and home lives.

In the Phantom of the Opera, the Phantom wears a mask to conceal his physical imperfections.  But despite presenting a perfect, porcelain face to his audience, the reality is very different.

One obvious reason for leaders to affect this phony stance is to look in control and as a “leader should look”. They create a persona that actually is not their authentic self. To some extent this is necessary. Adjusting our behaviors and emotions to different situations is the skill of a polished, emotionally intelligent leader. Where this becomes a problem is when a leader turns into a social chameleon, acting differently in every situation and with whomever they meet. The greater the delta between your inner core and outer persona, so the more work you need to do sustaining the pretense. You also need a good memory, as it’s unlikely you are telling the truth.

So, what makes some people a chameleon? Yung describes this persona in his work on archetypes. As a child, so we externalize those behaviors that our parents and society deem appropriate and offer rewards. Our persona grows based on assumptions of what others think is acceptable. As we grow and conform, so our persona grows as well. We do what is expected and start to lose the essence of who we are. Unless we consciously practice “self-remembering”, so our private and public lives continue to diverge.

It is unfortunate that in some societies we are encouraged to focus on our external image before looking inwards. “Manage your personal brand”, “Perception is reality” are just two examples of slogans that risk untethering us from our true authentic selves into what is deemed successful.


Think about the people that you know who act differently depending on who they are with? How about you? How different are you at work than at home? Does the mask come off? Imagine what it would be like going to work without the mask? What would you be revealing?

happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony. Gandhi

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