Glory, Self-disclosure, and Leadership in a Masked World, Part 1
To know and be known is perhaps the greatest of all human glories.
In fact, allowing one’s self to be known offers essential empowerment to leaders that nothing else can bring. According to French and Raven in the seminal article, “Social Influence and Power” (1959), virtually every source of social power that leaders have at their disposal—reward, coercion, expertise, institutional authority—eventually alienates their followers. (No one wants to follow a leader merely because of the rewards he or she can offer. People hate to experience coercion. Expertise creates resentment since people invariably try to extend their power beyond the specific precincts of their real knowledge. Institutional authority lasts only as long as people do not experience the flaws in a leader’s character.) French and Raven found that the only form of influence that does not eventually alienate followers involves what they called referent power—the phenomenon that causes followers to identify with leaders, desiring to emulate and identify with leaders because of their character, charisma, skill or another form of excellence. When people choose to follow a leader on that basis, and as long as the leader does not delegitimize their faith through failure to live up to the image they have projected, referent power does not alienate. While leadership can be exercised with minimal self-disclosure on the part of leaders, referent power follows knowledge of the leader’s person and long-term influence hinges on personal revelation. People want to know who they follow.
The role of self-disclosure in leadership feels terribly compromised in today’s environment of global pandemic, in which wearing a mask offers the only access to the stage and the only ticket to the show. All of us wish we didn’t have to wear the mask because of the discomfort it inflicts, but for leaders, the inability to see the faces of their followers goes beyond mere discomfort, interfering terribly with their work, blocking their ability to convey subtle impressions and read nonverbal cues.
Masks interfere with the glory of knowing and being known, the importance of which should not pass by unappreciated. Glory provides a major source of motivation for both leaders and followers, as anyone who has ever worked or played on a highly successful team can fully understand. No one need deny it out of a misplaced humility: God has created us for glory, and we all love it.
Interestingly, in the Bible the Apostle Paul writes about Moses having to wear a veil to mask the glory of God that shone from his face after his personal encounters with God—thus protecting the people from God’s radiant glory. (I know my face glows even after a casual encounter with mere human goodness—imagine the glory of a meeting with God.) Paul goes on to say, "We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3:18). Along these lines, it occurs to me that the incarnation of God in Christ involved a masking of divine glory in the veil of human flesh. That veil was lowered in the Transfiguration of Christ, which dazzled Jesus’ closest disciples, ripped in twain at the crucifixion, and left among the grave clothes in an empty tomb when Jesus arose from the grave in the glorified, transcendent bodily fullness of God’s eternal life and glory. As thrilling as his full revelation was, the mission of Christ required him initially to wear the mask for our sake. Without the mask of human flesh, without its tearing on the Cross, no resurrection could have occurred—neither for Jesus nor for us.
In our time, wearing a mask may go against the instincts of leaders. Some believe the masks do no medical good, while others swear by them. But given our circumstances, in order to open our businesses, and in protection of our Christian witness, and for the health of those around us, we have a Christlike duty to wear the mask for the good of others. When duty triumphs over nature, character shines and referent power emerges. May our good character always overcome our nature! If wearing a mask interferes with the disclosure of our self, we must do all the more to work with our eyes, truly engage the eyes of others, and look for ways to know and be known anyway.