Leading from the Outside-In: Masks, Costumes and Other Tools of Leadership and Love

My former partner loved to tease when he saw me putting on a little perfume before one of my online courses. “Do you think they’ll sit close enough to the webcam to smell you?” I understand how strange this seems. It’s just one of the things I do to get into professional character.

All the world’s a stage,” master Shakespeare reminds us, and if we agree with him, then it’s probably a good idea to know a little bit about acting. Acting from the inside-out (also known as the method) means that you go inside and draw from your own experience when portraying another human. It relies on empathy and an ability to go within. Acting from the outside-in relies on elements outside of oneself, such as an temperature, costume, prop or a mask, to elicit a character — think putting on a white coat and stethoscope to play a doctor.

In life, we rely on both of these techniques automatically. We play many roles and wear invisible masks, consistently engaged in a balancing act between living in accordance with our innermost self and being respectful and coherent of our outer circumstances. If you think being authentic means being one way all the time, think again. Share on X You probably behave differently when visiting an elderly relative then when you are on a third date. (Let’s hope).

If we can become conscious of the roles we are playing, we can playfully enrich our abilities to lead and love with props, costumes and masks. A salesman who wants a deal badly may don a mask of cool so as to appear more confident to his buyers. A lawyer eligible to make partner in her firm might dress in a clean, stylized and professional manner. A splash of scent fortifies a suitor before a romantic rendezvous. A comfy therapist’s chair, even in a dingy office, can represent authority, wisdom, knowing.


from master mask maker Wendy Drolma

from master mask maker Wendy Drolma

And these tools are particularly useful when you don’t feel like playing a role, even though you may want or need to.

One summer I traveled from New York to Los Angeles to celebrate my dear cousins birthday. It was a tough trip. Not only did I feel out of place in the land of material values and insecurity, but a romance back home was failing, my beloved pet had recently passed, and I was going to visit, for what turned out to be the last time, a family friend who was living with severe metastasized cancer. I panicked. As much as I wanted to see her, how could I “get it up” to do so when inside I felt so sad about her, and so dejected and derailed myself? How could I celebrate a milestone birthday when I wanted to crawl into a hole?

Neither contemplation, meditation, nor any of the inward tools that I love to practice and teach worked. Instead, I chose to get into costume. I put on a lacy skirt, sparkly earrings, heels and some make-up. My mood began to change. As the costume took hold, confidence returned. Other parts of me, those not consumed in misery, were brought to the surface, which in the given environment and circumstances helped me feel respect for myself and in turn gave me the ability to be open and present for my cousin and ailing friend.

Choosing our props, costumes and masks with intent can greatly enhance our ability to lead and love. You may find yourself with a migraine on your daughter’s birthday. You want a promotion but you can’t stand your current supervisor. You might not feel like being the boss on Monday. But you can find a prop, costume or an effective attitude mask to get you through.

The trick is not to let any one mask become immutable. Fixed masks asphyxiate. They keep the soul from breathing. It important to let the masks move to the side every now and then so that we can connect more deeply with self and others.

We don’t want to become the mask, we want to use it to shine through. Share on X

Character is what you will be remembered for. Here are some tools to help you strengthen it from the outside-in.

Project Don’t-Run-Away

Is life calling on you to step into a role you feel  “just isn’t you”? Parent, Teacher, Boss? See if you can find an outfit, a trinket, piece of clothing, or furniture that helps you “get into the part.” Then wear it, sit in it, etc. and see what happens.

Color can be a powerful way to shift your mood, or make your point. Oprah has her guests wear bright colors. One executive I coached was bored by the presentation he was asked to deliver on behalf of the company and was afraid he’d come across that way. I invited him to wear a colorful, playful tie. He felt jovial. It worked.

This probably isn’t news to any of you but a good reminder: Music gets you “in the mood.” Pick the mood you want, play the tunes to get you there.

Get physical
We express so much with our body language. Feeling incompetent before a meeting? Trying walking (literally) as you would imagine a great leader you admire walks. Want to feel peace? Sit as though you were the Dalai Lama. There are many teachers of and resources about body postures that evoke power and confidence. Study them.

Fake it Till You Make it
. . . is all about working from the outside-in. Rehearse a conversation to make the right impact, or a speech. See how it feels to succeed in your body, posture, tone and feeling, and you’ll “make it” eventually.

Got something that works that I didn’t mention? Let us know in the comments below!

Have fun. And remember, Love Yourself no matter what.

7 responses to “Leading from the Outside-In: Masks, Costumes and Other Tools of Leadership and Love”

  1. Alli Polin says:

    Blair – Outside in can be such a powerful tool not only for the stage, but in life! You’re so right! I work from home yet every day I shower (yay) and when I’m working with clients (virtually – we rarely see each other) I put on makeup and an outfit I love. I feel great and bring that energy with me when I pick up the phone.

    After reading your post I find myself thinking back to what it was like backstage before the curtain went up for the night. So many of the actors I knew (myself included) would listen to music to get grounded in who we wanted to be. I had not thought about that in years.

    Appreciate that you stirred something inside of me and wrote this reminder to do it even more. By dressing the part it’s not being phony… it’s like a doorway in, asking our best self to step forward.

    Now I’m bopping away to my itunes while getting my work done. Thanks, Blair!

    • Blair Glaser says:

      Thanks, Alli — my pleasure! I remember being backstage and listening to music too! I hadn’t thought of that in so many years. I love what you said about dressing the part as being a doorway, not phony. I hope that people can remember and take pleasure in that.

  2. Carla Feldschuh says:

    Thank you Blair for revealing the power of outside-in. It made me realize how I am always choosing the inside-out approach because I am more inclined that way and at this point more practiced in working this way. But why limit myself, and as your story clarifies so beautifully, we need to have access to both.
    This discussion makes me think of my (and others’) reaction to the phenomenal Alexander McQueen exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum a couple of summers ago. There’s a reason it became the most sold out show in the history of the Met (yes, more than Picasso or any of the ‘Greats’. During the last week the line to get in snaked around the inside of the museum, out the front and into Central Park.) The reason I cried when I looked at his clothes is because it made me realize that wearing them would give me the potential to become someone else. That the clothes would have the power to transform me internally as well as externally. That it’s possible for the two to go hand-in-hand so that the external resonates with the internal and transforms it. Now that’s what I call a power outfit!

    • Blair Glaser says:

      Such a powerful response, Carla. Thank you for sharing it. I wish I had had the time to stand on that line. What you and others describe about that show is so compelling and connected to leading from the outside-in.

  3. Wendy Drolma says:

    Wonderful piece Blair and what perfect timing as today is Mardi Gras, a celebration of how masks can make us feel inspired and free.

  4. Cary says:

    I want to try this and report back.

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