• Jo McDowall

How Not To Lead: The One Fatal Mistake Many Leaders Make … And They Don’t Even Know They’re Doing It

Ever worn a mask?

Maybe you went to a Masquerade Ball and covered your eyes to hide your face

Maybe you were invited to a bandit-themed fancy dress party and went as Zorro or the Lone Ranger

It may have been you didn’t just wear a mask — you had a whole Buzz Lightyear outfit with helmet, covering not just your face but your entire body!


When I began to lead teams many years ago, I wore a mask

I didn’t know it at the time, but I wore a facade, put up an invisible barrier so noone could see the real me

I didn’t feel I could let anyone in, didn’t feel I could let my team or colleagues see the real Jo

I was scared my natural, energetic and disruptive style wouldn’t suit the corporate world

So I put my mask on, my ‘corporate girl helmet’ and tried to ‘act normal’

Tried to blend in with the corporate suits and perceived expectations of how I thought a leader should act

I would try and be ‘serious’ at all times, showing little of my real personality in an attempt to be what I thought was ‘professional’

The thing was, I felt myself doing it, knew I was being inauthentic, but I was so scared to let the real me out!

So I lived the life of a double agent for years

I thought a ‘professional’ persona was the way to achieve credibility

But this came at the cost of being myself ..

The disappointing thing was, I led my team with this belief, scared they would think differently of me, wouldn’t ‘respect’ me

I cared too much about what other people thought to just be me

When I look back at those days now I both smile and cringe

How did I go for so long hiding the real me ?

It was tiring

A colleague called Dave and I had a conversation

I can’t remember how we got onto the topic or even his words exactly, but I remember how I felt

He made a comment about ‘seeing’ my facade ..

What?! People could ‘see’ that?! How?! I’d tried to hide it so well!

That day was a wake up call for me

That day I started to reassess how I showed up to work

That day I started to realise that, no matter who I pretended to be, the real me was always shining through

So I began making a conscious effort to let my facade down, slowly starting to withdraw my mask

It wasn’t easy. I had so many moments where I wasn’t sure whether to share

So many moments where I would question whether I should say something .. the REAL me wanted to come out ;)

Over the years, and thanks to that one conversation, I’ve slowly withdrawn my mask

That one conversation made me realise there is no substitute for authentic leadership

There is no substitute for bringing your whole self to work, honest and raw and natural

For people aren’t stupid, they can see through the facade, no matter how good you think you are at hiding it ;)

Since I started being ‘more me’, I’ve had raging successes leading teams

Why? Because when we harness our innate individuality, when we bring our own secret sauce to the table, that’s when people begin to believe in you as a credible leader

And that’s when magic can happen :)

Being authentic and vulnerable when leading individuals can be difficult for some who, like me, believed the world needed more of the same

But who wants to be a corporate clone?

What this world needs is more leaders who are brave enough to recognise that they may not be liked all the time, they may ruffle a few feathers, but at least noone can say you’re not authentic

Because authenticity when leading people is crucial when you’re trying to lead a charge, trying to change a culture or need people to buy into a vision

Individuals need to be able to trust their leaders, for all the faults and fuck ups

Yet it’s hard to build trust when you’re hiding behind a mask

Are you leading with authenticity?

Or do you still need to take the first step, nudge the mask down an inch and let the world see the real you … ?

#authenticleadership #lowerthecorporatemask #justbeyourself



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