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“Encouraged Inauthenticity”​ at Work

Having recent discussions with new and old friends about a topic many of us have been covering for decades grabbed my attention again.

Being our whole selves at work.

I remember being pretty stunned at my first job about a lot of things that were long accepted in the workplace. I write a lot about them; this time I want to focus on our wholeness.

Some comments like this where openly uttered at the time:

Wear your “man’s hat” when you come to the office

Bring only your professional self to work

And all the subliminal ones that were not spoken, but felt:

Emotions are not accepted; you have them in your personal life; you hide them at work

Crying? That looks so weak, so unprofessional; it certainly has no place in the office

If somebody is sick at home, you do everything not to skip work; we don’t care how 

Left-brain skills are rewarded more, so bring more of that and hide the rest

And some of this: “She is mean at the office, but actually such a sweet person in real life.”

These all sounded ludicrous to me even 30 years ago.

It was more than OK to be a different person at work and in real life, always separated somehow. I was forced not to bring my soft side to work. But what if that is my best side? How come I was going to hide it where I spend most of my waking hours?

It was crazy to see many people with high IQ to be rewarded who also had horrible people skills. They were not “successful” people in my mind or in my heart. I will never forget how happy I was when Daniel Goldman came out with EQ. I vividly remember thinking finally different skill sets and talents of so many more can be recognized as well. 

So basically the majority of organizations want you to “pretend” and “act” at work and be somebody you are not. I found a new phrase for it: “encouraged inauthenticity”. (We could easily replace encouraged with the word enforced as well.) Variations of these sentiments still exist everywhere. We see it; we feel it.

People are tired of being actors though. They want to be themselves everywhere!

I experienced both sides too. I worked at places where I had to pretend and then at a small business where I was able to bring my whole self to work every day. It felt so different: I felt like myself all the time. It was a feeling of freedom. I realized all that extra energy hiding myself could be used for something better at work. That was the best job I had even if I made less money. That was when I realized what made previous jobs harder was not my task but trying to hold back parts of who I am.

We all know encouraged inauthenticity never works. It does not work for you, nor the organization. If you had a bad day at home, you are bringing it with you. If your baby is sick, you may not be able to focus 100% at work. We are not physically or emotionally separable. When we are forced, we get physically sick. It has a toll on us.

Just as wellness programs started because workplaces put so much stress on people, authenticity discussions got momentum because work has enforced inauthenticity for way too long.

As brilliant Frederic Laloux tells in his book Reinventing Organizations about Teal Organizations, the breakthroughs are

1) Self-management

2) Wholeness

3) Evolutionary Purpose

He says this about Wholeness:

Organizations have always been places that encourage people to show up with a narrow “professional” self and to check all parts of the self at the door.…. Rationality is the king, while the emotional, intuitive, and spiritual parts of ourselves often feel unwelcome, out of place. Teal organizations…reclaim our inner wholeness and bring all of who we are to work.

If we are a conscious leader, if we really want people to tap into their best source of energy and talents, it is best to allow everyone to be truly authentic and bring their whole self to work.

Even during Covid-19, it was beautiful to see children popping up on Zoom screens, moms deciding how to divide their day between their children at work instead of having strict work hours, and people not looking so professional on screens every day. This is real life; it is beautiful. It is not perfect.

We have to let go of this need to act; it has been a big burden on all of us.

We are born to be ourselves wherever we go.

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Brooke O. Erol
Brooke O. Erolhttps://www.purposeful.business/
Brooke O. Erol started her career at IBM following the traditional path she was given to be "successful". She quit her "great job" on paper after 11 years, feeling she is not aligned with it. She started her journey to find her purpose in life. She started her first business in 2003; Your Best Life to help professionals who don’t like their jobs and want to find more meaning at work. After being around so many unhappy people at work as her clients, she decided to help the organizations and leaders who employed them. She started her second business; Purposeful Business to help leaders catch up with our times and grow their businesses without sacrificing the well-being of their people; where profit becomes a by-product rather than the main goal. She believes life is too precious to live only for weekends and retirement. She is the author of Create a Life You Love. She is also the co-author of "From Hierarchy to High Performance: Unleashing the Hidden Superpowers of Ordinary People to Realize Extraordinary Results" that became an International Best Seller in 2018. She speaks and writes about Leadership, Purpose-Driven Life and Organizations, Future of Work in the US, and abroad.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Wonderful, Brooke.
    The whole idea of living a segmented life is so enervating. My ‘adopted’ grandchildren – by association not blood, though I’ve been there for all their lives – and I are still very close. As they grew, Josh, the oldest (now a chef in New Jersey), and I were at the beach and he told me, “We all love you because you never talked to us like we were kids.”
    Switching hats all the time produces a huge headache, right? What’s with ‘retirement’? What’s with ‘work/life balance’? Like Brian, I found a path so that I can just show up. However you say “What you see is what you get” in Latin, that’s my bumper sticker.
    Have fun. Then have more fun.
    Mac

  2. Brooke, your words resonate well with me. I often felt incongruent, confined, perhaps suffocated at times, to “fitting in” with the box of the role I was hired into rather free to be and bring than ALL of what I might contribute to serve my role AND beyond it. This drained my energy and enthusiasm and made me feel like a number or an object in a machine rather than a human being with many skills, talents and perspectives to contribute to the success of projects, our customers and our business. I then had to find ways to feed and fuel and nurture my untapped, outside of the “do your job” skills, what I call creating my conditions, so I could (re)connect with the best parts of me that were frequently muted.

    • Thank you Brian. It is such a common experience with so many unfortunately. It is draining as you say! I think without being conscious of it we start to even lose the best part of ourselves. Then we have to do this inner journey to reclaim who we are again. Thanks for being on this journey with me where we want people to show up as their precious selves.

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