The Masks of Leadership

The issue around the persona of leadership poses the questions as to whether the “masks of command” can coexist with authentic leadership. In truth, there may be three answers to this question- no, yes and sometimes.

In the first instance, Covey is unequivocal in his belief that “what we are communicates far more eloquently than anything we say” and a defining characteristic of leadership is to act on the basis of a clear and transparent value system. Sanderson similarly notes that “values don’t arrive by memo but by example”. Values are the drivers for choice and action. Truly authentic leadership is driven by a principle-centered paradigm that says the quality of our outcomes would only be as good as the quality or integrity of our beliefs and values. Further, leaders must be authentically true to themselves, unafraid to express both their strengths and their weaknesses to their followers. They must be honest and up front with their staff.

Being true to oneself is the first step to be being able to inspire and motivate others. Leaders need to embody what they stand for in their behaviours, actions and decision-making. Otherwise employees will quickly see through phony attempts to be something you are not.

The second school posits that leadership is situational and therefore a leader must adopt a persona that will inspire his followers. For example, in times of war, it may be necessary for leadership to “mask feelings and emotions in order to exhibit calm in the midst of chaos”.

This approach also has some congruence with the principles of emotional intelligence where a leader’s skill-set includes his appreciation of the effect his emotions has on his followers and his ability therefore to regulate these emotions.

The more middle of the ground approach takes the view that leaders must be both principled and pragmatic. Badaracco cautions that leaders cannot be zealots. They need to be able to see beyond their own agendas for truth, change, and human development and make decisions that take cognizance of the reality of the particular context. He notes:

“The clash between principles and pragmatism is one of the hardest tests of a leader’s character. Of course we want our leaders to be both principled and pragmatic. Principles alone qualify men and women to be preachers or saints. Pure pragmatists can open their tool kits and get down to work, but their amorality makes them dangerous.”

Without compromising bottom line ethical principles, it is necessary to guard against being pedantic and locked into paradigms of what may really be personal prejudices. Being emotionally intelligent means also being careful as to how your own mood affects your followers.

True leaders are hardly ever zealots. They embrace diversity and cultural differences, they balance……….

September 2015