With my sons and wife, I was among the teeming masses at the movies last night to view the most awaited film of the year, The Dark Knight. I promise not to give away the story here. I’ll just raise a few questions that might help us learn something about leadership and life from this version of Batman and his admirable quest to be a useful citizen, a savior, for dear Gotham.
Like most great superheroes, Batman lives a dual life. Unlike others, whose powers are born of some quirk in the physical world (the alien Superman, the accidental Spiderman), Bruce Wayne (Batman’s alter ego) makes a deliberate—and painful—choice to cultivate his extraordinary skills for fighting evil-doers, and to sacrifice much in his life by doing so.
We all play different roles in our lives, and it’s the rarest of people who can be the same person no matter what role he or she is in; to be fully authentic, all the time. We all feel pressure to put on a certain face, depending on the situation. We all wear masks some time, for we must. At what cost?
What the Mask Protects
The mask protects our hero for it keeps his personal identity hidden. The mask contains the part of his life that is not his work. The people he serves need this mask, this symbol of real power and utmost commitment from a person willing to do whatever it takes to make things right. Bruce Wayne takes on the heavy mantle of complete devotion to civil service in his work. Should he be exposed to the world as Batman, then his loved ones become vulnerable, and so does he. He cannot be truly known.
The mask is a boundary between the different parts of his life. Yet underneath it, there is but one man. We all need to draw boundaries among the different parts of our lives, of course. We have to find ways to shut work off, for example, in order to pay full attention to our families, and vice versa. But those boundaries can be too thick; the mask’s costs can be too dear.
What Does the Mask Cost?
In the real world of work, we often feel as though we have to cut ourselves off completely from the other parts of our lives. But take a moment to consider:
• Is it really necessary to forsake what you hold most dear in your personal life in order to be the person you think you need to be in your life at work?
• To achieve important goals in your career, do you have to adopt a mysterious visage in order to be seen as powerful and effective, even if inauthentic?
• What masks do you wear? Is there a price for the invulnerability they seem to give you?
• What would it mean for you to reveal more of what lies beneath—what’s to be gained or lost?