The Impostor: Take Off Your Mask

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The Impostor: Take Off Your Mask

“If I am estranged from myself, I am likewise a stranger to others.”

― Brennan Manning, author of Abba’s Child

The Idea: One of my favorite people, the late Franciscan mystic Brennan Manning, cut through thousands of leadership books with one idea: if you are serious about leadership authenticity, you must take off your mask.  Manning says, “While the impostor draws his identity from past achievements and the adulation of others, the true self-claims identity in its belovedness.”  Leaders who are defined by personal accolades typically miss the mark.  The leaders who are truly transformational are relational, transparent and connect on a heart level.

Uber’s CEO search recently concluded with the announcement that Dara Khosrowshahi, ex-CEO of Expedia, would fill the role. And while many have criticized the appointment of a male CEO in the midst of a “frat boy” culture, his parting letter has taken onlookers by surprise.  In short, he states that he’s excited about the challenge, but he has not had one like this in some time: “I have to tell you I am scared.”

Some detractors have suggested that Dara’s comment is a tactical PR move at the start of a very public cultural reclamation act.  That may or may not be the case. But no one should doubt the importance of wildly vulnerable conversations at Uber, just as no one should doubt their importance on their own teams.

I was recently leading a leadership-training program with the senior leadership of an award-winning growth company.  During the meeting, I asked the CEO to share an event that transformed how he now leads.  This individual is truly loved, admired, and respected by the members of his organization.  He would be the first to share that he’s far from perfect, yet his distinct personality and values set the tone for his company: intense, competitive, playful, and smart.

He shared with his team that ten years prior, in a former company, after years of achievement and success, he was growing apart from his senior leadership in style and personal support.  He recalled walking the city streets until 4 am, feeling bewildered and empty as he assessed leaving the company because he felt he did not fit anymore.   As he shared the story, recounting the feelings of losing trust and the stress it put on his family, tears filled his eyes.  He paused and shared, “that emotion is still with me.”  It was a powerful moment, and everyone recognized the strength and authenticity of this special leader.  He had removed the mask.

Are you courageous enough to truly share from the heart?  Are you vulnerable and strong enough to take off the mask and connect heart and soul with your team?  Are you that big?

None of us like perfect people.  In fact, perfect people aren’t typically great leaders.  As the adage goes, “never trust someone without a limp.”  We want to experience others’ humanness and understand their story.   Wabi-sabi or “perfection in imperfection” is what influences others.  Are you comfortable being known?

My leadership philosophy was birthed in a home that struggled with alcohol abuse with my father.  That, coupled with a slight stutter growing up and a massive fear of public speaking, makes me sensitive to helping others who are trapped by their past.   I am not controlled by my history, but it is part of my story.

Brennan Manning puts it right, “In a futile attempt to erase our past, we deprive the community of our healing gift. If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others.”

Take off the mask.

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