If you want to tap into employee performance potential, be willing to look beyond the masks that people wear.
I have seen SO much potential in people in the workplace that's completely untapped that it’s mind blowing!
And it's actually not that difficult to unleash it.
Why is the Potential Untapped?
Because it is like water in a reservoir, backed up behind a solidly built dam, and until something/someone comes along to lift or break the dam, that water remains idle and stagnating.
Why Does This Happen?
From a young age people are conditioned into a mindset which blocks their potential much like a dam blocks water. They formulate particular beliefs for themselves about what it takes to be good, valued and successful in work and in life. People learn these things from their upbringing, their education, their exposure to other people and information, and from experiences over a lifetime. They learn it from culture and societal influences.
Unfortunately, many people are conditioned to believe that you need to appear like you “have everything together”, in order to be good, valued and successful. That means faking it until you make it, talking up a good game even if you’re not sure, not raising your hand if you need help if it’s possible to get by without doing so, and definitely, categorically, under-no-circumstances whatsoever can you show weakness.
While many people won’t admit it, the types of unspoken limitations outlined below are not uncommon and this leads people to form a mask they wear at work in order to appear like they “have everything together”:
- Don’t raise your hand with an idea. You might look silly.
- Don’t ask a question. It might be a stupid question.
- Don’t admit your own issues. You will look weak.
- Don’t acknowledge that you are having problems balancing your work. You might jeopardize your prospects for the future or worse yet, your actual job security.
- Always have as many smart and “right” things to say up your sleeve as possible. Impress and you will advance.
The Masks We Wear
As a result of many people having conditioned mindsets, being committed to the goal of looking like they “have everything together”, we have a society filled with people walking around in their personal lives and in the workplace wearing masks that present to the world their most well put-together self. This means hiding aspects (not all, but some) of their authentic self, not feeling able to ask for or receive help for the challenges, concerns or development areas they naturally have, and therefore their full potential remains untapped, as idle as the water backed up behind a dam.
The masks we wear play two important roles in holding together a façade:
- A mask serves the wearer – it protects the individual person from unwanted exposure, allowing them to feel safe when their questions, challenges or weaknesses are not clearly seen by others nor directly discussed. This is particularly important in the workplace, where progression and success is often misconstrued as being linked to looking the part, sounding the part and being strong. Needless to say that annual performance review time is a little nerve-racking for many people… they hope no one will see beyond the mask.
- The masks we wear obediently serve others, appeasing an unspoken standard in society based on the fact that most people do not wish to see the messiness of who other people really are behind their masks.
We wear masks to give others a reality that they can accept. – Isaac Pudas
People cover up what they a) dislike about themselves and b) what they assume others will not accept about them. We can never evolve people through those things and grow them into their ultimate potential in the workplace if we are not willing to look at those aspects ourselves, and to encourage others to look there too.
And in those weaknesses, those development areas that so many people shy away from acknowledging within themselves or within another, exists untapped potential – the gold of that human being.
A Desire to Ignore the Messiness
On the basis that we all have own our “stuff” to deal with (which takes up our energy and focus), we have as a collective become almost intolerant of dealing with other people’s “stuff”. In the workplace, we want to “get down to business”, to focus on the results, to keep things on-point and to leave our personal lives at the door.
Often people have enough of dealing with personality complexities and issues in life outside of work, and it’s the last thing they want to deal with at work!
You might ask, “Can’t work just be work?” Well… not really! There is no personal life and work life. There’s only one life. You are not two people, you are one person. Every work colleague is just one person. Every employee is just one person. There is no separation.
And here is a practical issue with wanting employees to leave their “stuff” at the door – the vast majority of people simply do not have the level of conscious awareness, nor psychological and emotional mastery skills and tools, in order to effectively attempt to do this. So they are left stranded with no option but to wear their mask of trying to look good and keep their game together.
The Problem with Loving Masks
The attitude of not wanting to deal with someone’s “stuff”, particularly if that person is an employee, is a limiting perspective that is met with limited results.
Every person has their “stuff”. Sometimes people shy away from seeing, addressing and supporting other people’s issues beyond their mask, because they don’t even do that for themselves. A leader or manager who wears a mask, will want employees who wear masks too. It is a modus operandi that perpetuates. People like masks because they believe it’s much easier, safer and cleaner to stay surface level with people. And that is fine, that’s a choice and that is one way of doing business. But with surface level interaction comes surface level results.
You want improved results from people? You have to tap their deeper potential and to do that you have to be willing to mine for gold.
Freedom Beyond the Mask
On multiple occasions when I’ve been engaged to guide people into better performance, be it lifting someone from low performance or elevating a good performer into even greater excellence, something magical happens. Nine times out of ten, when you scratch the surface and invite someone to remove the mask they are living behind in the workplace, what is revealed is so astounding – the real issue is unveiled, the real questions are asked and answered honestly, and the real potential is seen. This process of honest connection will, more often than not, ignite a person’s motivation. It is like you lift a ten tonne weight off someone when they can just be real!
The beauty of going beyond the mask is that the performance solutions required to address whatever messiness is exposed are not necessarily that complex. You just have to be willing to navigate the short psychological and emotional ground to get there.
This all provides a doorway into actually creating real, lasting and meaningful change for that person, impacting their work, and their life. And that meaningful change benefits whoever the lucky business is that employs them and will reap the flow on benefits from their breaking free of that mask.
Why Aren’t Businesses Eager to See Their Employees Mask-Free?
Here’s one reason managers and leaders don’t want to go beyond the mask with their employees… they worry they will unearth something they don’t want to deal with. They don’t want to burden themselves with someone’s issues nor experience any awkward conversations or difficult processes that may result from exposing someone’s personal messiness. That is only one perspective, one limiting way of looking at the situation, and one attitude that keeps the mask-wearing game in play en masse.
Behind every mask there is a face, and behind that a story. – Marty Rubin
In truth, when you go beyond the façade of a person and you see their genuine story (what they believe, what they fear, what they expect, what they are challenged by, what questions they have, what support they need and what is going on in their life) then you have access to turn that into their success. All new potential, power and strength within a person will come out of their messiness.
You can’t unlock the full potential in someone if you are not willing to see all of them – the gold and their messiness exist in the same place.
Whenever I see someone struggling in the workplace or in life, and I ponder how society might condition others to respond to the situation with things like, “Why doesn’t that person just get their s##t together”, I know the more important question we should be asking is this…
“If that person genuinely knew how to get their s##t together, they would! Therefore, they clearly don’t know how, don’t want to look weak or are feeling stuck. Therefore, WHAT is that person missing right now that would actually help them to progress?”
There is clearly an opportunity here. And that opportunity can’t be tapped until that person has access to something new/different, to help them breakout and to see things differently.
“Tear off your mask. Your face is glorious.” – Rumi
Progressive businesses are ones that are actively interested in transforming the relationships between leaders/managers and employees, where people are actively and openly encouraged to speak up in an authentic and vulnerable way, to be real with each other, to welcome the fullness of each other, to lay out concerns, questions, challenges, issues and weaknesses on the table. Those businesses are the ones whose employees will have a sense of personal freedom in their work and workplace which lifts their motivation, commitment, creativity and productivity. Out of a workforce like this comes new ideas, new energy, new collaboration, new possibility, and that type of business attracts more and more talent because they offer something old-school businesses do not– an authentic environment where human beings can be human beings without masks and nonsense.
As a footnote to this article – naturally no employee is going to remove their mask with a manager/leader they do not respect or trust! That is just natural self-protection. Having someone open up about what is really going on for them, in order to then resolve their inner blocks and mindset limitations, requires a level of healthy relationship dynamic in the workplace first, combined with a respectful style of communication to broach the topic and open up the conversation.
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