Leadership in Focus: Removing the Mask

In Tribe's new Leadership in Focus Video Series, Tribe's CEO and Creative Director, Vern Oakley, was interviewed by David Brancaccio of American Public Media's Marketplace Morning Report about being authentic on camera.

Authenticity on camera is a journey; it takes practice and skill and work.

Actors work at putting on the mask--appearing to be something they're not--but as leaders of corporations, institutions, and communities, our requirement is to remove the mask and be our truest selves on camera.

That's what resonates with people.

The truth is, it's not about being on camera at all, not really.

Portraying yourself accurately on camera has to do with confidence and a sense of performance, but more than that it's about showing who you really are. In order to show who you really are, you have to know who you really are.

There's a quote on Vern's desk from Aristotle. It reads, "Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom."

From that point on you can write your own story.

→ The Leadership in Focus Video Series covers multiple topics from the interviews. Be sure to view the rest of the series. Or sign up to get future installments delivered directly to your Inbox by filling out the "More Please" form in the right sidebar.


David Brancaccio: Let me pick up on one of the words you use quite a bit. I think it’s one of the most important words: authenticity. If you’re a person appearing on camera for maybe not the first time, but this isn’t what you do for a living, if you come off as something close to a human being, but still very CEO, or very whatever your occupation is, that might unsettle your viewer.

Vern Oakley: We need to understand that authenticity is a journey. We’re not born that way, or maybe some small percentage of people are born that way. It takes practice, it takes skill, it takes work; it’s not, you know, an easy thing. You don’t flip on a switch and say ‘I’m authentic’. It’s learning who you are, and I like to think of it as: you’re the author of your own story.

David Brancaccio: Does it have to be real authenticity? In other words, can you come-

Vern Oakley: That’s funny. That’s really- Yeah does it?

David Brancaccio: But can you create the illusion of leveling with somebody?

Vern Oakley: Then you move into this thing as: are they a really good actor? You know, because there are certain people who are inauthentic, but have figured out how to act. But acting is taking on a character or persona; it’s basically putting on a mask, and fully embracing that mask and that character so there’s no differentiation in the moments of performance between you and that mask. That’s absolutely the wrong way to think about being on camera. What we’re trying to do when we put people on camera is trying to take off the mask; you’re just trying to see who’s there, and that-

David Brancaccio: Who’s really there?

Vern Oakley: Who is really there? We’re programmed in a primal way to sort of, you know, look at people and decide whether this is a dangerous situation, or this is a safe situation. If I'm seeing this mask in front of you, then I have a question as to what's beneath the mask, and whether it's conscious or unconscious, that creates a disconnect. The more that we capture who you are, who you are in that moment, the more people will believe you and relate to you.


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