Who wears the leadership mask?

In my years of training emotional intelligence, I facilitated an exercise where I ask delegates to bring along a mask that personifies the character they bring to work. Through the activity we unpack why they feel they need to wear a different persona at work to that which they are at home. We go further in discussion to understand which of the two is their true self. Some delegates battled to decide. They wear these “masks” for so many hours each day that they disconnected from who they truly are. The question I always end with is: “Do you think the mask you wear at work is effective?” Eventually, true colours reveal themselves and people will perceive you the way they experience you.

Leadership is not an ‘act’; if leaders are ‘acting’ they should not be surprised when their people don’t trust them, don’t buy-into them and can’t really wait to work for someone else. I don’ believe that leadership in the twenty-first century requires you to be born with particular traits to lead and neither do you need to be seated at the top of the corporate ladder to lead. Leadership today is about authenticity.

Authentic leaders have a story to tell, a story that demonstrates vision, initiative, influence, integrity, and impact. In the words of Michael Hyatt “Influence and influenza come from the same root word. Real leaders are contagious.” These leaders are self-aware and genuine, willing to acknowledge their limitations and surround themselves with individuals who can create the strength where they fall short. They work for something bigger than themselves. Their pursuit it not just for personal gain but rather results that touch the lives of others. They lead with heart, unafraid to express their emotions.

This by no means makes them “soft” leaders. Instead, they can be assertive without “breaking” the spirit of people. By breaking a person’s self-worth, you fail to mobilise a person into becoming the best version of themselves. Authentic leaders are long-term focused. They work with the understanding that people as with an organisation needs to be nurtured over time, through hard work and patience. Feeding a child non-stop for a day will not make them an adult the next day. Time is an important asset and the way in which it is used is just as important.

Leaders today need to strive to become the kind of leader that people would follow voluntarily, with or without a title. The greatest act of courage that a leader can make is to be and own all that they are, without apology and excuses and without any masks to cover the truth of who they truly are.

Anisha Patel is the Chief Human Capital Officer at Fundi.

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