The Four Masks of Influence: How to Mobilize in Other Ways than with Authority, Charm, Manipulation or Intimidation?

Could there be skeletons or ghosts of another era hiding behind and influencing our idea of leadership?


There are four traditional masks used by leaders to influence others, these are: authority, charisma, manipulation of the truth and intimidation. Instead of building authentic relations with others, these masks are used with the goal of manipulating others to advance an individual’s agenda.


The first mask: Mobilizing by using authority.

Although the use of authority is necessary and legitimate in any group or organization, it cannot be the exclusive approach to gain respect and to mobilize others. The leader who wears this mask takes advantage of his hierarchical position to make individuals act in a certain way. This is also the case when the power to influence depends entirely on a figure of authority (the boss) or when it is accompanied by implicit promises of being rewarded or by unfair punishments such as being demoted, losing one’s job or reducing one’s salary.


The shared leadership model, on the other side encourages workers to take action and to make decisions without constantly having to refer to authoritative figures or to the orders and demands delegated from above. An authentic commitment to the common mission and values that are clear and constantly communicated are the qualities that enable workers to decide to act or not on the orders they receive.


In the authoritative approach, workers can be motivated to act and make decisions by fear of a higher power. There is the risk of a loss of mobilization when the orders given are misunderstood or when the situation has changed and cannot be expressed through clear instructions. Furthermore, because every worker waits on the signals and cues of the official leader, an individual’s chances of developing their independence, their sense of responsibility and their creativity are reduced the more the authoritative approach prevails in the organization.


The second mask: Mobilizing with charm.

The leader wears the mask of charm to mobilize like a spider. He weaves a web and lures his workers around him by complimenting them, valorizing their abilities, highlighting their birthdays, giving them days off, greeting them with smiles and taking the time to remind them of successes by putting aside the lessons that can be learned from defeats. The leader’s ability to charm is reinforced by his strong communication skills and by his proficiency in the field.


The leadership resulting from this approach is fragile. It depends on the leader’s charm and on his ability to mobilize others around him. When a deception arises, the responsibility is placed on the leader and the entire organization is demobilized because the leader didn’t develop his colleagues’ ability to make decisions and to act on their own.


The third mask: Mobilizing by manipulating the truth.

Even though the mask of charm can be seen as a form of manipulation, the influence of this approach is defined by the manipulation of information. This is the case when the leader gives half of the information to one individual and the other half to another.


This approach can be effective until the workers start comparing amongst each other the information and the manipulations they were subjected to. This can lead to the discovery of the leader’s lies and manipulations. The mask falls off and the illusions of truth created by leader are discovered. In a society defined by hyper-connectivity, this approach is increasingly ephemeral and inefficient and the risks and costs of failing can have negative repercussions on the entire organization.


The fourth mask: Mobilizing with intimidation.

This is the scariest mask (do not be fooled by the sheep costume, it’s actually a wolf(!)). The individual who wears it uses the insecurities of people to mobilize them and to achieve his goals. This is the case when the leader intimidates his workers in different ways: by using physical threats, by playing the “He-Man” or by insulting and by invoking potentially disastrous situations such as bankruptcies or the intimidation coming from other worker that can occur if the worker doesn’t hide behind the leader’s “protective strength”.



In our increasingly hyper-connected society, our thoughts and intentions have become transparent as information is almost instantaneously accessible and transferable from one person to another. The traditional masks of influence are no longer valid approaches to mobilize and influence. The leader needs to learn to trust in his abilities and to encourage authentic relations amongst individuals.


In the shared leadership model, the subjacent mobilization approaches depend on authenticity rather than on treachery, charm or other types of manipulation. A dialog that encourages true relations amongst individuals and that is centered on the common goal is the foundation of this model. The leader’s partners and collaborators are valued for their skills and for their contributions to the common mission rather than for their subjugation, their devotion to the official leader or their naïve confidence in a manipulative leader.


On this note… Happy Halloween!!!


Edith Luc


©2011 Edith Luc. All Rights Reserved.

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