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E82 | Why Joining The Mask-Free Movement Will Make You A Better Leader

“I believe that it’s not just that we are masked, it’s that we are addicted to them. And so what that requires is a solution that is similar to what helps addicts get free.”

Michael Brody-Waite has gone from being a drug addict to a successful CEO. Not only that, he’s an author, a public speaker, and a sponsor. His TED X talk has had over 700,000 views, and although he was talking about great leaders doing what drug addicts do, the most polarising comments were about his choice of footwear. This is a guy who has learned what it truly means to be authentic. 

And he’s written a book about it. As he learned to take his mask off in recovery by following the 12 step programme, he realised that the process to help addicts recover is the same process that creates great leadership. 

If we all just take our mask off, turn up, be authentic, have difficult conversations, our businesses would run better, we’d have better places to work, we’d be better humans and our lives would be more successful and more fulfilling. 

“I’m not the first person to write a book on how to be a great leader, that’s been done before, and I’m not the first addict to talk about their story, that’s been done before. But what has never been done was taking the process that addicts use to recover, that’s been working for millions of addicts over 80 years, and translate that into a leadership framework that allows anyone to truly become a great leader.”

We hope you enjoy this conversation with Michael as much as we did, he truly is a great human being. 

On today’s podcast:

  • What the mask free movement is
  • Why we are taught to hide
  • How Michael learned to be authentic
  • Why sponsors are the best leaders
  • The three principles of authentic leadership
  • What CEOs should be doing differently
  • How to take your mask off


Taking off the mask with Michael Brody-Waite

“I think that most leaders in this world, and most people in this world, hide their true selves behind a mask because they think it’s going to make them more successful. And I’m on a mission to make it so that people know how to take off their mask and show their true selves and unlock the competitive advantage that they were born with.”

Michael Brody-Waite is the founder of the mask-free movement, a recovering addict and a successful entrepreneur. His leadership is styled on the 12-step recovery programme.

The problem, says Michael, is that leaders are taught to hide their humanity, rather than be proud of their weaknesses, and this style of leadership doesn’t make sense any more in our world where to be successful, we need connections. 

“Our competitive differentiator is how we connect with other humans, and so pretending that you’re more than human, and that you’re perfect, and that you don’t have weaknesses, and all that kind of stuff is hiding behind the mask, strength isn’t actually leading anymore in this modern world, it’s following.”

A new way to lead

When Michael learned recovery he learned a new way to live, which taught him a new way to lead. And so he took the process that has worked for millions of addicts for over 80 years and translated it into a leadership framework that allows anyone to become a truly great leader. 

But it means you have to take off your mask. 

Lots of people talk about authenticity and leadership and why they’re valuable, but there’s nobody showing people how to actually do it, how to systematically apply it. And that’s where Michael fits in, because this is precisely what his system is designed to do. 

Avoiding the uncomfortable conversation

People say yes to things that they could say no to. People hide their weaknesses, hindering connection and growth. People avoid difficult conversations, they hold back their blind spots and their unique perspectives which create these blind spots and stop them from unlocking innovation. 

“We are taught how to do hard work. We’re taught how to do smart work. We’re not taught how to do uncomfortable work. Uncomfortable work is emotional. It’s that pit in the middle of your stomach when you have to have a bad conversation that you’re scared of. And we see people all the time go do eight hours of hard work because they’re avoiding 10 minutes of uncomfortable work.”

Be vulnerable

So if you’re a CEO, there’s a really simple thing you can do right now – and that is go first. Lead from the front. If you want your people to be vulnerable, if you want your people to not hide their weaknesses, if you want your people to say no, if you want your people to not hold back their unique perspective and you’re the leader, go first. Be vulnerable to them. Say ‘I don’t know’. 

If you can unmask your whole team, just think what you could achieve – your workplace would improve, your output would grow, you would be a better human. 

Use discomfort to gauge trust

Use discomfort as a benchmark. It’s a great way to gauge trust – there’s no way that ten intelligent, talented humans sitting in a room will all agree with everything being said. It’s just not possible. It’s not real. We can’t agree with our spouse, so there’s no way we can agree with all of our work colleagues. 

When you remove your mask you can be authentic and challenge one another. You can say things that are real in order to achieve a more real outcome, and when you do this, the results will be phenomenal.

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