by Achim Nowak

DO You Bring Your WHOLE SELF to Work?

June 15, 2020

It can sound like a corporate cliché.

Bring Your Whole Self to Work.

Not Best Self (we want that too). Whole Self.

Bringing your Whole Self is the explicitly stated expectation in two large global enterprises where I serve as an Executive Coach. I used this phase in conversation with the newly minted female CFO of another firm last week. “I have no idea what that means,” she said to me.

Yeah, what DOES it mean? Especially in the time #blacklivesmatter and #whiteprivilegeunwrapped?

Starbucks company policy had banned the phrase Black Lives Matter from its stores. Because it could “amplify divisiveness.” Last Friday, Starbucks reversed the policy and announced it would provide 250,000 Starbucks-branded Black Lives Matter shirts for baristas and other employees who want them.

Starbucks stands in solidarity with our Black partners, community and customers, and understands the desire to express themselves, was the official Starbucks statement.

The 100-year-old Band Aid company announced on Wednesday it would produce a new range of band aids in light, medium, and deep shades of Brown and Black skin tones that embrace the beauty of diverse skin.

Korn Ferry, the venerable recruitment and talent development firm, just named Michael Hyter its first Chief Diversity Officer.

It’s easy to get cynical in the face of all this corporate virtue-signaling. Korn Ferry – you acquired Mr. Hyter’s Global Novations Diversity & Inclusion firm (and its very fine programs) in 2012. It took George Floyd’s murder and sustained global protests for you to give this fine gentleman a Chief Diversity Officer role. For real?

Yes, I get cynical. Does all this signaling really mean it is safe to bring more of you to work? As an Executive Coach I know that the more of YOU you bring, the better chance you have to impact those you work with. To deeply motivate and inspire them. To be the sort of leader folks wish to perform somersaults for.

Search all you want. There actually is no clear psychological definition or HR playbook anywhere for what bringing your Whole Self to work looks like. You’re on your own to figure this one out.  

Focus on the matters within your realm of personal choice. As you investigate this question for yourself, consider the following 3 questions:

  1. What are your filters?

We all have filters at work about what we reveal and what we don’t about our SELF outside of work. Having a filter is a terrific grown-up skill. All of us know folks who don’t filter enough; we tend to recoil when they over-reveal. But what happens when you and I over-filter?

Here is one of many filters I have shed: I used to not talk much about my showbiz career with my corporate clients. I thought my past career might damage my current credibility. My clients might not take me seriously. This past would make me an outsider, to boot. The opposite, of course, is true. My show biz past makes me different from a perhaps more traditional Executive Coach. I get hired precisely because I am not and have not been a corporate insider. My outsider self is an advantage. Filter ditched.

  1. What’s your box?

The competence box. The professional box. The perfection box. These are the 3 boxes we’re most likely to inhabit. They frequently live inside each other. Many of us work hard to step into these boxes. Sometimes with fervent intention, sometimes with little consciousness. The pull is that powerful.

At the root of this quest is our desire to be liked, to receive approval, to not stand out in any negative way. To smooth the inner edges we know we have and seek to hide. To, at the very core, convince others and ourselves that we are enough.

We step into the box by starting to speak “professional speak.” We leverage assets and find synergies and we right-size. We forget that humans don’t really talk this way. We begin to divorce work language from how we speak outside of work. We don’t notice that in the box we have increasingly separated ourselves from who we really are. We come to believe that the box IS who we are. And we leave behind a whole trail of our identity that runs the danger of vanishing into dust.

  1. What’s the price you pay?

It is always the same. A lack of connection. When I am less connected with facets of myself, I also limit the possibility of connection with you. Because I bring less of me to you, you are less likely to show more of you to me. We keep it breezy and safe. Professional, with few personal risks. Too breezy and safe for too long, and we start to feel a creeping hollowness inside. It is the void of not feeling whole. We have become divorced from our values and passions and purpose. We have become the consummate shadow professional.

So yes, who DO you bring to work? They always told us to not talk about politics and religion at the office. In this time of #blacklivesmatter and #whiteprivilegeunplugged, is that another filter gone?

You get to decide. Not for others. For yourself.

I remember the first business dinner where I spoke of regularly attending an ashram and chanting in Sanskrit. I sat at a table with a group of fine Christian gentlemen, and the conversation turned to going to church. I hope I’m a fine gentleman but I am not a Christian. Instead of going silent, as I was wont to do, I chose to reveal a few of my Hindu practices and what they mean to me.

Part of my Whole Self.

The gents and I, of course, had a fine conversation about our personal connections to the divine that evening. Conversation flowed. Deep. Rich.

The Whole Self yearns to show up. Mine and yours. Time to let it out of the cage.

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