When we stop hiding our true selves and become vulnerable, our work environment is more enjoyable—and productive—for all.
Have you ever wanted to speak up about an issue or situation at work, but were afraid to? Or wanted to share something about yourself, but worried people might judge you? Or pretended to understand something professionally that you really didn’t? If you’re anything like me and most of the people I know, you could easily answer yes to some of these questions.
However, to truly succeed in today’s business world, we must be willing to bring our whole selves to the work that we do. This means showing up authentically, leading with humility, and remembering that we’re all vulnerable, imperfect human beings doing the best we can. It’s also about having the courage to take risks, speak up, ask for help, and connect with others in a genuine way, allowing ourselves to be seen.
Of course, it’s not always easy to show up this way, especially at work, for a variety of reasons—our roles and personal background, the cultural norms of where we work, previous experiences, and more. And we may fear that there will be repercussions from employees or coworkers if we don’t fall into line or appear infallible.
In my new book, Bring Your Whole Self to Work, I argue that—regardless of where you work, what kind of work you do, or with whom you work—it’s possible to show more of your true self and become more satisfied, effective, and free. And whether you’re a business owner, leader, or just someone who wants to have more influence, leading with authenticity allows you to impact your team’s culture so that they can be more authentic, too—which will unlock greater creativity, connection, and performance for your company.
Here are five specific things you can do to be more effective, successful, and engaged at work, while encouraging others to follow your lead.
1. Be authentic
The foundation of bringing your whole self to work is authenticity, which is about showing up honestly, without self-righteousness, and with vulnerability. I call this the Authenticity Equation: Honesty – Self-Righteousness + Vulnerability = Authenticity. It takes courage to be authentic, and it’s essential for trust, growth, and connection.
Some simple things we can do to be more authentic at work are admit when we don’t know something, acknowledge when we’ve made a mistake, or ask for help in a genuine way. All of these take courage and require us to embrace vulnerability and let go of our need to be right.
A recent study conducted by Mark Fotohabadi and Louise Kelly published in the Journal of General Management showed that more authentic leaders tend to engage in active, constructive conflict behaviors—things like widening the lens to consider alternate viewpoints, or admitting your part in creating conflict. In other words, being authentic is essential to resolving conflict at work in a productive and positive way. It’s also been tied to less burnout, because it helps people deal more easily with jobs that involve a lot of emotional labor.
2. Utilize the power of appreciation
Showing appreciation is fundamental to building strong relationships, keeping negative things in perspective, and empowering teams. However, it is different from offering recognition. We often think of these things as the same, especially in professional settings; but recognition is based on results or performance—what people do or produce—while appreciation is about people’s inherent value or who they are.
Of course, we want to do what we can to effectively recognize successful outcomes like sales results, projects completed, or ideas implemented. But behind every success or failure is a living, breathing human being. Appreciation is about focusing on our gratitude for people’s effort, as well as the human qualities and characteristics they possess that we value—such as humility, kindness, or humor—regardless of the outcomes. It is something we can express at any time.
According to a survey conducted by Glassdoor, a job recruitment and employer review website, 53 percent of employees said they would stay longer at their company if they felt more appreciation from their boss, and 81 percent of employees said they were motivated to work harder when they felt appreciated. And research suggests that gratitude—a close cousin of appreciation—can really transform workplaces, bringing employees greater health benefits, happiness, and job satisfaction, and better relationships with coworkers.
3. Focus on emotional intelligence
Your emotional intelligence (EQ) is both about you (having self-awareness and being able to manage your emotions) and about how you relate to others (being socially aware and managing relationships). EQ is often more important for success than your professional skills, IQ, and experience, according to many experts. Some surveys find that employers value EQ as much or more than other job skills.
David Caruso of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence says, “It’s important to understand that emotional intelligence is not the opposite of intelligence, it is not the triumph of heart over head—it is the unique intersection of both.” Research suggests that having greater EQ can help prevent job burnout and may improve performance on certain tasks. One of the best ways to build our EQ is to cultivate a regular mindfulness practice. Whether it’s a specific form of meditation or simply using one of the new popular apps, taking some time to stop, breathe, and center ourselves on a regular basis allows us to be more self-aware and to manage our own emotions more effectively. And mindfulness often leads to more compassion and understanding of others, which helps us successfully manage our relationships.
4. Embrace a growth mindset
Having a growth mindset means approaching your work and your life with an understanding that you can improve at anything if you’re willing to work hard, dedicate yourself, and practice. It’s about looking at everything you experience (even, indeed especially, your challenges) as opportunities for growth and learning.
Stanford professor Carol Dweck makes a distinction between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset (the belief that our talents are innate gifts that we’re either born with or not, and that can’t be changed). Through her research, Dweck found that employees with growth mindsets are 47 percent more likely to say their colleagues are trustworthy, 34 percent more likely to have a strong sense of commitment to their organization, and 65 percent more likely to say their organization supports risk-taking compared to their fixed-mindset peers.
Trying new things, especially those that scare us and push us out of our comfort zone, is a great way to practice having a growth mindset.
5. Create a championship team
The people you work with and the environment around you have a significant impact on your ability (or inability) to fully show up, engage, and thrive. At the same time, the more willing you are to bring your whole self to work, the more impact you can have on others. Creating a championship team is about building a culture that is conducive to people being themselves, caring about one another, and being willing and able to do great work together.
When these actions—speaking up, taking risks, and owning mistakes—are modeled and celebrated, especially by those in leadership positions, it allows the team and the environment to be as psychologically safe as possible.Google conducted an in-depth research project between 2012 and 2014 called Project Aristotle, aimed at determining the key factors that contribute to high-performing teams. It involved gathering and assessing data from 180 teams across the company, as well as looking at some of the most recent studies in the fields of organizational psychology and team effectiveness. According to the findings, the most significant element of team success is what’s known as psychological safety: a culture of trust where people feel safe to speak up, take risks, and know that they won’t be ridiculed for making mistakes or dissenting.
These concepts are fairly easy to understand on the surface. But like many important aspects of life, growth, and business, it’s not the understanding of them that makes the biggest difference; it’s their application.
And the application of these ideas takes real courage. The activities, relationships, and goals that matter most to us (both personally and professionally) are always going to involve vulnerability, which Dr. Brené Brown from the University of Houston defines as “emotional exposure, risk, and uncertainty.” But the good news is that, if you are willing to bring your whole self to work, you can expand the impact, influence, and success of your work and your life…and help others do the same.
This piece was originally published in the Greater Good Science Center.