Leo D'Angelo Fisher Columnist

Leo covers management and leadership issues, business trends and corporate strategy. He is a former senior business writer at The Bulletin and a former host of The Business Hour on 3AW.

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Dropping the mask: Why being your imperfect self makes for better management

Published 19 June 2013 06:12, Updated 19 June 2013 12:10

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Dropping the mask: Why being your imperfect self makes for better management

The alignment partnership’s Peter Fuda says that dropping the mask is a difficult but worthwhile undertaking for business leaders. Photo: Nic Walker

Peter Fuda advises chief executives on how to transform their leadership styles. An area of particular interest for Fuda, principal of Sydney-based management consultant The Alignment Partnership, is his concept of the “CEO mask”.

Chief executives wear these metaphorical masks to “conceal perceived imperfections from their audience in favour of a polished façade”, or to suppress natural dispositions and values in order to adopt a tough-guy persona. Authenticity is an important leadership attribute; chief executives who wear masks are not authentic. When masked chief executives are found out by staff, their authority and credibility usually take a hit. As well as alienating staff, chief executives who are revealed to be something they’re not risk losing the trust and respect of their executive team.

Fuda, who has documented more than 500 cases of leadership transformation, says it is not easy for a leader to drop the mask, but when they do it’s worth it. “By exposing their vulnerability and dropping this mask, leaders inspire their followers to do the same, ending in a more aligned relationship between the leader and their followers,” he says.

The currency that the new CEO needs is trust. It’s not only paramount but extremely difficult in those first few months.

In one case, Fuda coached a chief executive through the process of abandoning her “mask of toughness and control”. She became more open to recruiting top executives to share the leadership load. The chief executive built up a leadership team she could rely on, which in turn brought out her “natural curiosity and openness”. The overall result was “a substantial impact on the performance and morale of the organisation”.

Chief executives who are new to an organisation often have their mask firmly fastened on as they set about making their mark. In seeking to make a short-term impact, they miss out on a vital opportunity to win staff over for the longer term. “The currency that the new CEO needs is trust. It’s not only paramount but extremely difficult in those first few months because everything they do and say is put under the microscope. Everyone’s looking for clues, looking for where the danger is,” he says. “Leaders should always be aware of the impact they have on an organisation and how they motivate people to behave.”

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