Who’s hiding behind that professional mask? Authentic leadership

Last week I was at a networking event where the format was based around coffee and cake. You turn up, mingle, eat cake, drink coffee and chat with fellow guests. Next was a Question and Answer slot where the guest is questioned by the audience. There is a real mix of audience participation and sharing of ideas and tips. At the end there is further opportunity to network.

I was the guest speaker at the event and it was quite refreshing to turn up without a script or being told what to say. I was ‘myself’ as trying to portray someone that I am  not or be something I am not will only run the risk of ‘being found out’ and will come across as superficial. I have one authentic self that I carry around 24/7– there are no false images, adopted persona, façade or hiding behind a professional mask.

The latter was a significant finding in my published research on coaching teams which explored how coaching helps to support team working.  ‘Seeing the person behind the professional mask’ and understanding the ‘human’ side of the professional were instrumental in breaking down barriers,  opening up and sharing of experiences, creating a sense of belonging and trust and connecting with each other on an emotional level.

 Many of my clients often use a ‘professional mask’ to hide behind. It protects them from being vulnerable and keeps he real ‘me’ safe. I recall an extreme example when working with Tina (not her real name and permission sought to use as a case study).

Tina was an experienced deputy head teacher who was unsuccessful in securing one of the 3 headship posts that she had applied for. Tina was a very competent, hardworking and high performing deputy head. She was also very abrupt in manner, directive in her approach, had no time for ‘chit chat’ or social events, found it difficult to get people collaborating and there was a lack of rapport and engagement and connection with her peers.  She kept herself at a distance and seems to have built an invisible wall around her.

My approach to working with Tina was ‘delayering the onion’. To peel back the layers to find out the real issues and what’s contributing to them. Tina was moved up a year when she was at school. From that moment on, the pressure to produce results was paramount. She had to be the best at all times and failing was not expected. This was the self imposed perception that she held. She had left her friends and found it difficult to make new ones, especially as most of new class mates by now had labelled her  as ‘teachers’ pet’.

Tina got married had 2 children and a husband whom she later divorced. She took comfort in food and soon became overweight. Her confidence, self esteem and self worth plummeted. As she no longer socialised her circle of friends diminished.

When out of the house and not with her immediate family Tina became a different person. The ‘real’ Tina was always left at home, behind closed doors.

Part of the coaching process was finding the ‘real’ Tina and how this impacts on her leadership. Leadership is an expression of who we are and not just what we do. It is about ‘being’ as well as ‘doing’. The 2 go hand in hand and one informs and compliments the other and vice versa.

Some of the ways that Tina was helped to discover her authentic self were through:

  •  Developing self awareness and getting to know yourself inside out
  •  Identifying your values, purpose and talents and how these drive you
  • Exploring behaviours and how consistent and aligned they are with your core values 
  • Using your stories and experience to uncover beliefs, assumptions and blind spots as a catalyst for change 
  • Being aware and managing your own and others’ emotions and relationships
  • Developing a mindset that embraces challenges and obstacles and builds resilience
  • Identifying strengths and acknowledging weaknesses
  • Building on accomplishments and achievements
  • Taking small steps to build relationships, connect with people on an emotional level
  • Learning to open up and share something personal
  • Finding and building strategic networks and alliances

In my next blog I will reveal what progressed Tina made

 Knowing who you are, what you are good at, what you stand for, your beliefs and values enables you to become authentic in your actions, thinking and emotions and gives a confidence that radiates from within. With this as a foundation, engaging, connecting, communicating and building rapport and relationships will come easier as you are ‘being yourself’

Have you experienced a situation where you have not been authentic or perhaps witnessed one where the other person wasn’t?

 How did you become authentic in your leadership and actions? What would add to the above? 

Love to hear from you

Follow me on twitter: @verawoodhead

Join me for Coaches Connect on 29 June


About verawoodhead

I'm an executive coach, leadership facilitator and learning & development consultant working with managers and leaders to develop the skills and behaviours to inspire performance and drive results; achieve promotion ; make successful career changes, be resilient and thrive at work. Within organisations, I help to facilitate better conversations, design learning interventions which deliver practical and lasting solutions aligned to business strategy and goals. Connect with me on Twitter @verawoodhead
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4 Responses to Who’s hiding behind that professional mask? Authentic leadership

  1. Its hard to be the best you can be when you are too busy trying ot be someone you’re not. I’ve tried many times to “fit in” with others and a long time drew the conclusions that the only time I truly fit in is when I’m being myself. Great post Vera.

    • verawoodhead says:

      Carolyn, good point about trying to ‘fit in’. The need to be ‘liked’ or ‘part of a gang’ can be so great that you try and pretend to be someone you are not. You either need to be in a different group or have the confidence and conviction to be yourself …and the latter can be a challenge for some

  2. Hi Vera
    Great post! I’m a firm believer in the value of knowing your real self and drawing on those unique qualities at all times. I have noticed a tendency for companies to try and mold or temper characters to fit the prevailing culture , especially the higher up the ladder you go. Sadly, people are often told to curb emotion which is effectively stops you being the real you and means emotional intelligence can be lost from teams. My view is – its always worth being yourself – Sometimes you’ll fit and sometimes you won’t but at least you won’t feel compromised!

    • verawoodhead says:

      Hi Clare, you are right, we are all unique and it’s a shame to move away from that to ‘conform’. Fitting in with the culture and the ‘norms’ of organisations can be a challenge especially when values are not aligned. Often you hear the expression ‘organisational fit’ – double edge sword. Your last comments’be yourself and you wouldn’t feel compromised’ is an excellent tip

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