Leaders Know People Are Very Tender And Vulnerable Inside
For 25 years I was privileged to facilitate the workshop, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, “for Georgetown University employees.
During many of those years, I would conclude the workshop with an anonymous quote from Stephen Covey‘s book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families.” Covey used this story to illustrate his Habit five, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” It’s long, but I encourage you to have the patience to read it until the end.
“Don’t be fooled by me. Don’t be fooled by the mask I wear. For I wear a mask. I wear 1000 masks -masks that I’m afraid to take off – and none of them is me. Pretending is an art that is second nature with me, but don’t be fooled.
I give the impression that I am secure, that all is sunny and unruffled with me, within as well as without; that confidence is my name and coolness is my game; that the waters are calm, and I am in command and I need no one. But don’t believe it. Please don’t.
My surface may seem smooth, but my surface is my mask – my ever-varying and ever-concealing mask. Beneath lies no smugness, no coolness, no complacence. Beneath dwells the real me – in confusion, in fear, and loneliness.
But I hide this; I don’t want anyone to know it. I panic at the thought of my weakness being exposed. That’s why I frantically create a mask to hide behind, A nonchalant sophisticated façade to help me pretend, to shield me from the glance that knows.
But such a glance is precisely my salvation – my only salvation. And I know it. It’s the only thing that can liberate me from myself, from my own self-built prison walls, from the barriers I so painstakingly erect. But I don’t tell you this. I don’t dare. I am afraid to.
I’m afraid your glance will not be followed by love and acceptance. I’m afraid that you’ll think less of me, that you’ll laugh, and that your laugh will kill me. I’m afraid that deep down inside I’m nothing, that I’m just no good, and that you’ll see and reject me.
So I play my games – my desperate pretending games – with the façade of assurance on the outside and a trembling child within. And so begins the parade of masks, the glistening but empty parade of masks. And my life becomes a front.
I idly chatter with you in the suave tones of surface talk. I tell you everything that’s really nothing – nothing of what’s crying within me. So when I’m going through my routine, don’t be fooled by what I’m saying. Please listen carefully and try to hear what I’m NOT saying… what I would like to be able to say… what for survival I need to say, but I can’t say. I dislike the hiding. Honestly I do. I dislike the superficial phony games I am playing. I’d really like to be genuine.
I’d really like to be genuine, spontaneous, and me; but you have to help me. You have to help me by holding out your hand, even when that’s the last thing I seem to want or need. Each time you are kind and gentle and encouraging, each time you try to understand because you really care, my heart begins to grow wings – very small wings, very feeble wings, but wings.
With your sensitivity and sympathy, and your power of understanding, I can make it. You can breathe life into me. It will not be easy for you. A long conviction of worthlessness builds strong walls.
But love is stronger than strong walls, and therein lies my hope. Please try to beat down those walls with firm hands, but with gentle hands, for a child is very sensitive, and I AM a child.
Who am I?, you may wonder. I am someone you know very well.
For I am every man, every woman, every child…
every human you meet.”
Please remember that all people, including our family members and our work colleagues, are tender and sensitive.
As Covey reminds us in this book, some have learned to protect themselves from this level of vulnerability – to cover up, to pose and posture, to wear a safe “mask.”
As leaders – of our families, of our work groups, of our volunteer organizations – we can always strive to practice unconditional caring, kindness and courtesy to help penetrate these exteriors of the people in our lives.