Bring Your Whole Self to Work Responsibly
The idea of being your authentic self at work brims with positive sentiment. The vision is that if we all feel safe to be ourselves, and that our behavior will not be mandated, then we will be happier, more collaborative, and more productive. The problem is that for many people, it’s not actually safe to do so.
In every organization, even those with an “inclusive” culture, there are power dynamics at play that make it easier and more comfortable for some people to divulge or break character. For everyone else, bringing your whole self to work can make it harder to show up.
Without clear boundaries, it’s hard to navigate a path, and for those who don’t want to share details of their personal lives when everyone else is doing so, bringing your whole self can feel very alienating. In these cases, bringing your true self to work can appear to some as a mandate, however benevolent. What’s more, people may feel as though they don’t have the ability to opt out.
Bringing your whole self to work should lead to inclusion. But without a culture of complete psychological safety, it can lead to fear, apprehension, and exclusion.
Therefore, if you’re in a position of leadership or power, it’s critical that if you bring your whole self to work, you set an example by doing so responsibly.
In the article “Do Not Bring Your Whole Self to Work” (The Economist 02 June 2022), the author explores the behaviors of executives who “deal in whole-selfery of a very synthetic kind” and those with a tendency to disguise “controlled cunning” in overt displays of authenticity and vulnerability.
The story highlights the potential dark side of authenticity at work. It points to the truth that organizations are, in many cases, unfairly expecting people to bring parts of themselves into an environment that doesn’t guarantee safety for doing so.
So rather than focusing on bringing our whole selves to work, I believe that we need to focus on what that principle is trying to achieve. A mechanism that promotes agency, acceptance, and autonomy.
As leaders, let’s try to be responsible for our authenticity and take a moment to pause, calibrate, and think about the appropriateness and context of the liberties we take. Let’s be considerate about who’s in the room, their stake in the discussion, and their comfort level before we speak.
Only by allowing for more acceptance and more appreciation of difference can our workplaces be truly inclusive.
To read more from Stephan Ledain on redefining leadership performance, refer to his post Being a Force for Good Is Part of Your Company’s License to Operate.