Some of us consciously put on a mask when we go to work each day. We act in the way that we think someone doing our job, at our level should act. And then there are those of us who go to work without even realising that we are wearing a mask. There may be something from our past that has created a certain behavioural trait which means that we do not realise we’re keeping part of our personality or life hidden. I’ve recently realised I’m the latter.
Whether we’re wearing our masks consciously or unconsciously, it is undoubtedly unhelpful in many ways. It limits our authenticity as a leader, it reduces our ability to fully connect with other people and it limits our enjoyment of life.
When a strength becomes unhelpful
I have a strength in Emotional Control which means that being aware of my emotional triggers and controlling them, so that I remain calm and productive, comes naturally to me. This is true of me whether I’m at work or with friends and family.
Bizarrely the only exception to this is with my wife. After a long tiring day or when my mind is elsewhere I will snap at Jo for no good reason or become outwardly moody towards her because of an emotion I’m internalising.
That’s something I’m going to work on.
When Emotional Control is over-played I can come across as dispassionate or aloof as I don’t tend to share my emotions and feelings with others. Deep down I’ve known this to be true for a long time, but it was something that my good friend and coach said to me a few weeks ago that set me on a new journey of personal development. She said:
“You talk about lifting the mask in the your book Ben, but what about lifting your own mask. I find it really hard to read you sometimes.”
Whack! That really struck a chord and set my mind racing. But not as much as her next comment…
“You know Ben, if you don’t share some of your emotions, some of the struggle, I wonder if some people might see you as Mr Perfect?”
Smack! That one floored me. I wouldn’t quite say that it rocked me to my core but it’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot ever since (that’s another strength that I over-play… but more on that in another post perhaps).
I regularly talk to my private mentoring clients about the fact that not all of the things that have made them successful thus far in their career will be the things that serve them well in the future. This is certainly the case for me. This strength in Emotional Control served me well as a leader in the Army and up until now in my career outside of the forces.
What’s clear to me now however is that if I really want to share my passion and knowledge about what it takes to be a true leader, then I need to drop my mask.
I need to be willing to give and show even more of myself.
Wearing a mask
I’m no psychologist, geneticist or neuro-scientist. I cannot say for sure exactly how much of our personality, strengths and thought patterns are natural and what elements are learned over time.
What I do believe however is that we develop certain personality traits and learned thinking patterns as a result of experiences that had strong emotions attached to them. I also believe that experiences in our childhood are particularly formative.
As a child growing up I remember sitting at the top of the stairs crying as I listened to my mum and dad arguing. I think I did this so that I knew what was going on and in case I needed to do anything to help either of them; although to this day I have no idea what that would have been.
As soon as I heard one of them leaving the lounge or kitchen I would hurry back in to my bedroom, wipe my eyes and hide under the duvet. I did this because I didn’t want them to know I had heard them arguing, I didn’t want them to know that I was upset and I didn’t want them to worry about me.
For mum and dad, if you’re reading this I wouldn’t want you to feel an ounce of guilt or regret about this. I love you both dearly and appreciate the sacrifice you made in staying together in a broken relationship for the sake of Alex and me. That action alone taught me so much about leadership and what it means to make sacrifices for those we are responsible for.
Since Freya was born I have learned that being a parent is the biggest leadership challenge in life.
Dropping the unconscious mask
Initially I didn’t think that I had a work mask. Logic told me that I hadn’t put a mask on, I wasn’t deliberately and consciously choosing not to share things about myself. It was just a case that I had a strength in Emotional Control which meant it didn’t occur to me to share stuff.
I’m now starting to realise that’s not the case.
The truth is that I put a mask on a long, long time ago. Over time that mask has become so comfortable that I didn’t even realise I was wearing it.
Why have I written this article?
If I’m honest, I’ve written this article for me. To see if I can, to see what happens when I do and to see how I feel dropping the mask.
In doing so I hope that you will to do the same so that you can be a better leader, team member, husband or wife, son or daughter, mum or dad.
I hope it helps you better connect with others and enjoy life even more.
To paraphrase Brene Brown,
“You cannot selectively numb your emotions. If you numb the sad emotions, you numb your experience of the good stuff too.”
More than ever, I’d love to hear your thoughts on my writing or for you to share your own experiences. firstname.lastname@example.org
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