It’s Halloween! It’s an annual celebration that sparks much creativity and excitement for many countries around the world. It’s a time when many of us, across generations, accompany children and grandchildren on their much anticipated trick-or-treating, dressing up in costumes and going to parties with friends or colleagues. Over 15% even dress up their pets! In the US: “Halloween retail spending is projected to be $9.1 Billion in 2017. That’s a new record. So is the number of people celebrating at 179 million.”
We are heartily amused at any age, pretending to be one of our heroes, a celebrity we admire or a character that frightens. Halloween is, for many of us, a time to fantasize and enjoy pretending being someone else.
While masks can be fun temporary disguises, they are not limited in our lives to the celebration of Halloween or other cultural festivities. They are often a cover that we choose to routinely adopt to conceal facts about who we are.
Look no further than the recent worldwide press about Harvey Weinstein, a powerful individual and leader who for decades thrived in a make-believe world of his own, hiding behind a mask many couldn’t see beyond. Most of us couldn’t fathom that the smile, the success, the awards and the wealth masked extremely inappropriate behaviors. Despite the facade, his victims knew that he was simply pretending; they knew that he was wearing a mask.
There were others in his circles who likely turned away from confronting the harsh truth in fear of losing a career and/or financial rewards, and in fear of rattling a highly controlled, intimidating environment. Sadly, many of these individuals also chose to wear a mask, not being transparent about a toxic situation while obviously cognizant that it was continuously harmful. Weinstein, and undoubtedly some of his allies, got comfortably accustomed to pretending that a chronic, intolerable situation did not exist. They couldn’t find the courage to peel off the masks and take the necessary actions to eradicate unhealthy governance and leadership.
When we hear about such disfunctionality in the news, it is imperative that we look, individually and collectively, at the way we lead our lives at home and within our organizations. While we express outrage about the Weinstein situation, we ought to assess with courage our own unhealthy behaviors and habits. When are we wearing masks, and how might we be pretending with friends, family members and board colleagues? We all can invite introspection as a healthy and necessary process to peel off the masks that we wear. When we embrace transformation that begins with ourselves, we better the world around us, caring to be ourselves and being able to see the world as it is.
Most human beings hold secrets about themselves, their loved ones, career hurdles and lifelong disappointments. These are wounds that we need to lovingly attend to and heal, rather than pretending that the wounds are fine or don’t dilute our true essence. While we might not wish to be seen, we should not be afraid to see our true “selves.” In knowing one’s self, we embrace humility, develop compassion for others and attune to the fact that we cannot make assumptions about others and situations. We are more prepared to reach out, inquire, listen and support one another. We find ways to help someone who is morally and emotionally in pain, rather than enabling him/her in concealing the truth, ensuring that victims are not shamed and penalized but supported and respected.
Since I launched my business more than a decade ago, working with leaders inside and outside the boardroom, our frank exchanges have helped remove masks and initiate needed confrontations with the truth. Leaders have typically initially resisted prioritizing such exchanges, attesting that they were doing just fine. Interestingly enough, every time I have been given the privilege to serve in polling “facts,” positive or painful, leaders have felt relieved to be given the opportunity to express their frustrations, disappointments, concerns and views to better the board climate and the effectiveness of all the leaders—including themselves.
When I conduct a check-in for a CEO or a board, it is not about punishing and gossiping, but about capturing the good and the hidden truth that often gets shut down. It is not uncommon that a CFO tells me that a board member had entitled him/herself to some expenses and, while he had notified the CEO, the CEO was unable to address it with the Chair, or the Chair would refuse to address it with the director. If we can’t feel comfortable sharing an incident on this level openly, how can we expect to address unhealthy behaviors such as sexual harassment with a sense of urgency? Given that one of the duties of boards is risk oversight, shouldn’t we encourage and espouse brave attitudes, rather than waiting for a crisis to emerge and having to govern in a reactive mode?
In life and in the work I do with individuals, boards and organizations, I am passionate and devoted to lead the process of freeing ourselves and peeling off all that does not serve our purposes. The masks that bury what should be communicated and addressed burden our lives and suffocate our true essence and our ability to live fulfilled at home and to build healthy organizations.
My invitation to you: While wearing a mask to pretend for a moment, think about the masks that you should peel off and drop in your day-to-day life.
Masks are facades to protect ourselves as a coping mechanism, creating an appearance to cover the reality and potentially damaging, even disastrous, implications for others and the world at large.
We each must do the work to be authentic with ourselves and with others. We must commit to peeling off the masks.