We all wear masks.
The Sunday-morning-at-church mask.
The go-to-work-every-day mask.
The how-we-behave-at-parties mask. (My favorite mask in this category: the cocktail-reception mask. I hate cocktail receptions.)
The how-we-talk-to-neighbors mask.
The we’re-dealing-with-a-difficult-family-issue mask.
The annual-job-performance-review mask (either giving one or receiving one).
The I-have-to-deliver-bad-news mask.
We know why we wear masks. Masks protect. They make us less vulnerable. They defend against the unwanted and unexpected. And in The Cure: What if God Isn’t Who You Think He Is and Neither Are You, authors John Lynch, Bruce McNichol and Bill Thrall point out masks do other things, too.
“We can gain admiration and respect from behind a mask,” they write. “We can even intimidate.”
I’ve had bosses who were world-class mask wearers. Nothing is more gratifying than to become a supervisor or manager of people – a “people leader,” in today’s organizational lexicon. And nothing is more terrifying. Training programs abound, and I’ve taken bad ones and good ones. But no matter how good a training program for leading people is, it’s no substitute for the real thing. Leading people is largely a learn-by-doing undertaking. Trial by fire.
So we wear masks. Masks can (in theory) help us from looking inexperienced, stupid, or incompetent.
The first time I actually supervised another person – 1984 – the company had no training program. You just did it. And my person was a “problem person” – someone who had been agitating for a better opportunity but did not have the right degree or experience for the opportunity desired.
I had all kinds of words of wisdom, which I largely ignored. I decided to treat the individual as if they knew most of what they should be doing. I didn’t set unrealistic expectations, for the person or for myself. I helped when it was needed, but this was a “working up to expectations” relationship. And the individual surprised everyone and did exactly that.
I didn’t wear a mask.
Fast forward 20 years. This time I was asked to supervise a function with two people. One of them was considered “a problem.” But no one had ever told the individual that. I was told it was up to me to “get rid of the problem.”
I found the euphemism for “real live human being” offensive. And previous supervisors had simply not done what they should have done.
I sat down with the person and explained the issue. And surprise – they already knew (they usually do). We worked through a three-month performance plan, with weekly check-ins. At the end of it, the individual gave a candid – and accurate – assessment of the results. They left the company a few weeks later. It had been a difficult situation, but one thing was vitally important.
Neither of us wore a mask, as tempting as it was.
The authors of The Cure point out that “as long as we’re behind a mask, any mask, we will not be able to receive love. Then, in our desperation to be loved, we’ll rush to fashion more masks, hoping the next will give us what we’re longing for: To be known, accepted, trusted and loved.”
When you wear a mask, they say, only the mask receives love. Or respect.
Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been reading The Cure. To see more posts on this chapter, “Two Faces,” please visit Sarah at Living Between the Lines. Next week we’ll conclude the discussion on this chapter.
Photograph by Junior Libby via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.