Do you have your “Game Face” on? – Mark MacLeod

June 17, 2020 - Mark MacLeod

Do you have your “Game Face” on?

Many CEOs feel a need to present a brave front. To have their ‘game face’ on. Especially during challenging times.

The thinking is that they need to shield their staff from the harsh reality. Perhaps a senior exec is about to leave. Perhaps fundraising isn’t going well and runway is getting tight. Whatever the reason, the CEO feels that she needs to shoulder this herself.

There are several problems with this approach. For one, it places a tremendous burden on the leader. Being CEO of a high growth company is hard enough when things are going well. It is a lonely, demanding and all-consuming role. Add to that, the isolating and heavy burden of not being able to show how you really feel and you might do yourself real damage.

Also, venture-backed startups tend to be populated by very smart people. They KNOW when something’s up. They can smell it. By not being open, you actually lower trust and have a negative impact on culture (in addition to adding massively to your own stress).

The day after my ex and I agreed to separate last year I told my entire team. I told them because I didn’t want the burden of having to fake like things were normal. I wanted the freedom to behave differently. If I needed to come in late because I didn’t sleep well the night before or I just wanted time to think, I didn’t want to have to make up a reason for it.

I knew the team could handle it. And it was freeing to just be honest.

Perhaps you are worried that if you tell your team members how bad things really are that they will leave. A legitimate concern in a competitive labour market full of well-funded companies.

My belief is that by being totally honest about the good, the bad and the ugly, the increase in trust more than makes up for the risk. Yes, some people will leave. Those that remain will be more bought in, more dedicated than they would otherwise have been.

A beautiful illustration of the power of true transparency is Buffer. They are as transparent as it comes. They publish their results every month. They share their salaries and their roadmap. Despite not being on the venture treadmill and raising more and more capital, their Glassdoor ratings are high with an 84% approval rating.

If you work at Buffer, you have no uncertainty. No fears or ‘what if’s. You know how the business is doing. You know what is on the CEO’s mind.

So get rid of your game face. It isn’t serving you. And it isn’t serving your team. Be open and authentic. It will free you and bring your team closer together.

Questions to consider

Am I open with my team about what is on my mind?

If not, what impact is this having on me?

What would happen if I opened up and shared? What are the risks? What are the potential advantages?

Do I think culture and performance would be enhanced if I opened up?

Do I think my energy and performance would increase if I opened up?

Photo by Chris Rhoads on Unsplash

Your journey is never done

Sign up to my newsletter and join an inspired community of leaders who realize that the journey to achieving their full potential is never done.

If you’re curious about my coaching and deal work you can learn more here.

back to blog

Latest Blog Feed

The virtuous cycle of hiring the best

In Jim Collins’ management classic From Good to Great, one of the first steps in building great companies is to ‘get the right people on the bus’. Even before you figure out where to drive that bus. The single most […]

read more

Do you speak first or last?

The CEO is the single most important person in a company. Founding CEOs, in particular, have more knowledge, context & passion than anyone else. There is also a very strong correlation between founder/ CEO success and company outcome. This is […]

read more

Saying ‘no’ is saying ‘yes’ to yourself

The title of this post is a nugget I got from one of my clients. As with all too many CEOs, this person was overwhelmed with demands for his time. He has many stakeholders, and leads not just in his […]

read more


Email :

Follow me:


Send Me A Message