The leaders we choose to be...


“We all wear masks…”

(Will Self)

Last week I was editing a film of the fabulous staff of a ‘special’ school.

As the head of the school was on camera, a few of her words really struck me; I’ve listened to them again and again.

“… I feel strongly about that sense of authentic experience. We’re all coming with difficult experiences and a few scars here and there…[…]… but it’s part of what role models resilience to the kids. I think they see that in all of us. That’s part of what works; that they can look and see people that have overcome…”

Yet acknowledging our difficulties and scars can be contentious in many work environments. Acknowledging that we might be need help now is even worse.

We are only slowly getting used to the idea that it’s (mostly) human beings who show up in the work place. Human beings who have joys, worries, vulnerabilities, sicknesses, dreams, ambitions, friends, families and loved ones.

But there is still resistance to hearing about our humanity at work. Senior leaders are expected to ‘contain’ their anxieties and shield their ‘followers’ from the realities of the world. Followers are expected to provide their ‘deliverables’ without question and demonstrate ‘resilience’ as they encounter what feels like increasing stresses and difficulties along the way.

Meanwhile, everyone disengages, puts on a ‘brave face’ and starts looking for the exit.

Our working lives are becoming more precarious and daunting than ever before. We need a better conversation about who we are in our workplaces.

As leaders, we can valiantly mask our vulnerabilities and anxieties while expecting others to do the same, or we can demonstrate a different kind of courage by showing up authentically, speaking differently and bringing our collective humanity out of the shadows.

We build our resourcefulness through visible expressions of care and love, not through blind denial.


I’m a fan of Helena Clayton’s work. Take a look at her website and click on the ‘Leading from Love’ research report.

My copy of Margaret Wheatley’s ‘Who Do We Choose To Be?’ is getting well thumbed, especially around the pages discussing ‘islands of sanity.’

Steve MarshallComment