From super manager to inspiring leader: how to drop your work mask and be your authentic self

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It's time to drop the work mask and share with your peers how you're really feeling, argues leadership mentor Ben Morton.

Do you ever feel like you’ve got a few too many plates spinning and that at least one is about to come crashing down? And does that feeling cause your imposter syndrome to surface, filling your head with thoughts such as ‘What if I fail and everyone finds out that I’m not really good enough?’

Let me tell you that you’re not alone. This is one of the most common topics that I find myself helping even the most senior leaders with during our one-to-one coaching and mentoring sessions.

The interesting thing is, whilst many clients are willing to share this experience with me in private, they are reluctant to share these feelings in front of their colleagues.

Instead we get up each day and put on our work-mask when we leave the house. We arrive at the office and say to ourselves and those around us:

‘I’ve got this and I’ve got my s**t together.’ Yet on the inside we’re seriously doubting ourselves.

It’s ok to be a little vulnerable from time to time – as uncomfortable as that might feel.

We’re working harder, faster and more frenetically than ever just to stay on top of things. We’re doing what we’ve always done plus all of the new stuff that came with our latest promotion.

We’re deferring life for our career. We tell ourselves that we’ll make time for exercise, for eating more healthily, for our friends and family once we’ve got the next job… because things will be better then. But ‘then’ never comes.

And whilst all this is going on we cling to hope as the final part of our leadership strategy. We hope that we’re doing enough and that none of the plates come crashing down.

I used to feel this way too. I still do occasionally, although I get these feelings much less often than I used to.

So, what’s the answer?

Part of the answer lies in dropping the work-mask (more on that here) and understanding that as leaders we do not have to appear invincible.

It’s ok to let our peers in and ask for help. It’s ok to be a little vulnerable from time to time – as uncomfortable as that might feel.

It’s ok to be human.

The reality is though that being vulnerable takes courage. It takes courage to say: ‘I’m feeling the pressure at the moment and I could really do with some support.’

We need to let people know that we are human and we need to allow ourselves to be human.

Perhaps more importantly though, when we tell others what’s going on, it paves the way for them to do the same.

That’s true leadership and that’s what real leaders do. They go first and show others the way.

It’s true that as leaders we need to inspire those that we lead. We know from Emotional Contagion theory that ‘states’ and emotions are highly contagious. How we are as leaders has a direct impact on those around us, which affects their mood, productivity and how well they collaborate.

So yes, we do need to manage our state so that we can inspire those around us.

But at the same time, we also need to let people know that we are human and we need to allow ourselves to be human. We have to make sure that we’re looking after ourselves, so that we can look after those that we lead.

Going first…

Towards the end of 2017, my good friend and coach said something to me that is still at the front of my mind.

“You need to be careful of Mr Perfect Syndrome. With all that you do, people may not connect with you as deeply as you’d like them to, because all they see is everything that’s perfect in your life.”

Well, I’m human too. There’s loads going on at the moment, at home and in work, and it feels like some of my plates are getting a bit wobbly. I also realise that I don’t need to be invincible and that I too can ask for help.

I’m telling you this in order to go first, in the hope that you and your colleagues will follow.

Let’s start dropping the mask together.

About Ben Morton

Ben Morton

Ben is a best selling author, accomplished keynote speaker and sought after leadership mentor who has worked with senior leadership teams in the U.K, US and Australia.

Ben’s work as a leadership mentor is based upon three fundamental beliefs:

  • Leadership is less about the tools and models and more about understanding what it really means to be a leader.
  • The best leaders put the interests of their people and organisations ahead of their own.
  • Leadership is both a great privilege and a great responsibility.

As a graduate of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst he completed two tours of duty in Iraq as a Captain in the British Army. He then moved into business as Global Head of HR, World Challenge, later part of Tui Travel and followed this with a period in the Tesco Leadership Academy.

Alongside his military and corporate career Ben has also led expeditions around the world to places as diverse as the Himalaya’s, Malaysia and Mongolian Stepppe country.

He now works exclusively with senior and executive teams to help them be the most effective version of themselves as individual leaders whilst also becoming a genuine, high performing team.

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