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A number of years ago I took a coaching course that included a profiling module on DiSC profiling. This DiSC profiling gave you three assessments; the first one was what you profile yourself to be, the second one is how the DiSC model interprets you to be (you may think you’re massively introverted or extroverted, but the multiple nuances of the profiling may suggest otherwise). It’s fascinating to see this difference of your perception of yourself and the reality.

The third and final profile you receive from DiSC profiling is an assessment of what you are like at work, known as a ‘work mask’ or ‘mask’: the difference between who you’re profiled to be and how you behave at work or in public.

This work mask profile was the most interesting for me 10 years ago, because I was almost exactly the same in my personal profile and my work mask profile – apart from one element. My ‘i’ or ‘influencer’ trait was much lower in my work mask.

But why is this important? What is this got to do with 2021, and most importantly, what has it got to do with you as a finance leader?

Are YOU wearing a work mask?

There’s an assumption that if you aren’t being yourself at work, you aren’t being authentic, and it’s unlikely for you to be happy in your work. A big difference between my personal profile and my work mask profile suggested a conflict, the problem being that I was unable to influence people at work as much as I wanted to.

The politics of work got in the way, the prioritisation of work got in the way, and for someone who is classed as a an influencer, a promoter of things, this is a very difficult situation to accept. It’s an itch that keeps on itching, it’s a headache that won’t go away. It’s something that drives into your reason for working and messes up your day.

The reason for me talking about this today is that I believe 2021 was the year where everyone removed their work mask, either voluntarily or involuntarily.

The combination of remote working challenges to managing your team, your work life balance and your own mental fitness has lead to an authenticity that means we are much closer to our personal selves, or personal profiles, than our made up, corporate work mask profile.

We should all aim for authenticity

What a wonderful thing it is to be able to be you. To be authentic, to be yourself, to be open and honest at work – it’s probably one of the most rewarding things an employer can offer. It will lead to you being more satisfied and more productive in your role.

It will also lead to you simply being John or Julie, a leader of a team, a leader of a business, rather than someone who we’re not sure of because we only see your work mask.

2021 has given me many examples of this. Work masks are being dropped in virtual meetings. You see people at home, you see insights to their personality and their home life.

Yes, some of us bought fake bookshelves, but most of us just let the camera roll and showed the good, the bad and the ugly of our personal lives – whether it was the kids screaming, or the cats walking across the keyboard.  It really didn’t matter, because everybody knew you were working from home.

I also experienced many people opening up about their mental fitness. Some said they were struggling to be productive, others saying their anxiety had grown so much that they needed to take time out. All of this was said in confidence, but these were conversations that would never have happened in a work mask environment.

Accepting life without a work mask

The reality is this: dropping the work mask has come about because of our acceptance that we just need to get on. To get something done, to answer the demands of our teams and businesses, and to worry less about the politics and personalities that exist within the office.

As we complete another year of the pandemic, the United Kingdom shifts back to homeworking and to an acceptance that working through virtual communication and collaboration tools will remain part of our lives. So, I would like to take a moment to celebrate the dropping of the work mask, and to encourage everyone to keep that mask off.

Removing your work masks will almost certainly make you feel happier in your role. It’s likely that your team will see a more authentic you, and hopefully that will lead to better retention in this year of the great resignation.

Be bold, be real, be you.