Go Ahead, Bring Your Soul to Work

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This may sound strange, perhaps hard to believe, yet it’s true: even accomplished leaders need permission from time to time.

I spend my day speaking to leaders of all stripes – it is literally what I do for a living. Huge organizations and small, C-suite and middle management, for profit and nonprofit, this is what I do, and what I’ve been doing for years and years now. And one thing that comes up again and again in many of these conversations is something to this effect: “I’m one person at home, another at work.”

So I ask you now, does this describe your situation at all?

  • At home, I’m generous and giving.
  • At home, I trust the good intentions of those around me.
  • At home, when I’m with my friends, we let loose and simply enjoy each other’s company, typically with no agenda at all.
  • At home, when I volunteer, I get lost in my work. When I’m done, I feel good for hours afterward. It’s the highlight of my week!
  • At home, I’m joyful.
  • At home, I’m the real me.
  • I wish I could be the real me all the time. If only!

Meanwhile,

  • At work, I’m analytical and objective. If it can’t be measured, it doesn’t count.
  • At work, if you can’t prove it with hard data, don’t bring it up!
  • At work, I’m guarded. You have to watch your back.
  • At work, I make the tough decisions. It’s part of being a leader, that’s all.
  • At work, I only give to my peers in strategic ways, if it’ll benefit me, too. I don’t want to be taken advantage of!
  • At work, a lot of my time is spent on pointless tasks. That’s why they call it work, isn’t it?
  • At work, I work my tail off. It’s draining. That’s why they pay me, right?
  • At work, I’m a stripped down version of the real me.

Does any of this ring a bell? Does any of it strike a little too close to home?

The fact is, we’ve all felt it – and many of us have felt nothing but these feelings their entire careers. Many of us, especially those of us who cut our teeth in the Twentieth Century, who were inculcated in the Industrial Age management philosophy still ascendant today… many of us in that boat don’t yet realize there’s a better way, and that some folks are living this better way right now.

There’s a better way, and that some folks are living this better way right now.

The permission I referred to in the opening paragraph? Many of us crave permission to be our whole selves at work, our real selves. We crave permission to be generous, trusting, giving, and joyful at work as we are at home. Some people will always doubt and detract from your efforts, no matter what evidence you give them that there’s a better way. Forget about them. It hurts me just to say that, but it’s important to say. No one can help those who refuse to be helped; who would rather be “right” than happy.

Some people are already on board with this message of whole-self-all-the-time. If you are, too, then that’s your chorus. It’s important to recharge your batteries with your chorus and gain new insights from their experience.

The vast middle? Those are what I like to call the “willing skeptics.” They aren’t sold on your message, but they’re open to being convinced, if you can back your claims up with examples. Gather those examples! It’s what every compelling author and speaker and teacher and leader is: a storyteller. Statistics won’t get you where you need to go. Examples of thriving companies running on modern, human principles? That’s what the willing skeptics are looking for. Put your willing skeptics in the position to think, “If they can do it, and they’re like us, then I’ll bet we can do it, too.” Then show them how, or find someone who can.

Statistics won’t get you where you need to go.

People are screaming out for positive, uplifting change. That 70% of workers who are disengaged and disaffected? They know there must be a better way, and they’re on the lookout for companies that are living it, polishing off their resumes so they can make the leap. This is an existential crisis for the companies who refuse to modernize in how they lead, the corporate equivalent of the dinosaur die-off 65 million years ago.

The thing that doesn’t show up in surveys, but should, is this: it isn’t just workers who are unhappy. Even many leaders yearn for a better way. They yearn to bring their whole selves to work – to bring their souls with them when they walk through the company doors each morning.

Is that you? Would you like to be the complete you, the trusting, generous, moral, joyful you all day every day, and not just at home?

Here is your permission.

Bring your soul to work. It’s essential to your happiness.

Or if you don’t want to take it from me, take it from Yvon Chouinard, founder and owner of the $500M+ Patagonia. Chouinard is author of Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman. It’s one of the best business books I’ve ever read, and I’ve read hundreds. It’s a blueprint for how a company can grow to incredible success by embracing the whole of every worker and leader, rather than just their backs, hands, and left-brains.

Chouinard founded a company with bringing one’s soul to work baked right in as an essential ingredient of the workplace. It has served them all well. Perhaps that is the permission you need.

Bring your soul to work. It’s essential to your happiness. It’s also essential to the success of your company as we tread ever deeper into this more human century of ours.

 

*The title of today’s post is “borrowed” (*ehem*) from our friend Scott Mabry’s blog elumn8, whose tagline is “Bring your soul to work.” It’s a great blog, from a terrific leader. To read Scott’s first post with us: Three Dimensional Leadership.

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  Image credit- nexusplexus / 123RF Stock Photo

Ted Coiné is a Forbes Top 10 Social Media Power Influencer and an Inc. Top 100 Leadership and Management Expert. This stance at the crossroads of social and leadership put him in a unique perspective to identify the demise of Industrial Age management and the birth of the Social Age. The result, after five years of trend watching, interviewing and intensive research, is his latest book, A World Gone Social: How Companies Must Adapt to Survive, which he co-authored with Mark Babbitt. An inspirational speaker and popular blogger, Ted is a pioneer of the Human Side of Business (#humanbiz) movement. He is also a serial business founder and three-time CEO. When not speaking at conferences and corporate functions, Ted advises CEOs on how to become Truly Social Leaders, or “Blue Unicorns” as they put it in A World Gone Social, in order to bring their companies into the Social Age. Ted’s advice: “Change is only scary if it’s happening to you. Instead, bring the change your competitors dread. That is something only a Social Age business leader can accomplish.”

  • Ted…an awesome, energetic and motivating article. Thank you for writing it! Your observation that “People are screaming out for positive, uplifting change” is spot on, and speaks to the unfortunate reality that too few leaders today are sold out to helping those in their care reach their full positive potential. Like you, I’m hopeful leaders everywhere will recognize that when they create conditions for others to bring their best selves to work, people will readily stop settling for mediocrity and enthusiastically strive to become extraordinary. Well done, friend.

  • Scott Mabry

    Gee “bring your soul to work” sounds very familiar… great points about bringing our whole selves into our work. Thanks Ted.

  • I love the line, “Bring your soul to work, it’s essential to your happiness.” As someone who has the opportunity to experience this day in and day out at Luck Companies, I can attest to the positive impact it can have on one’s interaction and life. Thanks for being a leader and continuously giving people permission to be themselves.

    Happy Holidays,
    Danielle Elizabeth Aaronson
    @deaaronson

  • How right you are Ted. I can’t admit to ever not bringing my soul to work and certainly never acted any differently at work than I did at home. The people who act differently are conformists.

    Why was I different? Because I had never become a conformist from being told to do this, look like this, and be like this OR ELSE! From this kind of treatment, about 95% of us become conformists just to escape the negative consequences, some more and some less. But conforming becomes so automatic that we don’t even know we are doing it.

    I was born with pneumonia and everyone thought I would die. When I didn’t die, everyone said that I would die if I ever got pneumonia again. I got it 3 more times. I was very weak for my first 4 years and no one ever told me what to do or said much of anything to me. My nutritionist mother pulled me through, not doctors. Once a child is left to their own devices for 2-3 years, they become their own person too accustomed to using their own brain to decide what to do to ever let anyone else do that. Likewise, everyone thought my wife had rheumatic fever as a child and would die early so no one ever said anything to her for a few years and another non-conformist appeared.

    Being a non-conformist is the way we all were at birth and we can all go back to being non-conformists if helped. Non-conformists are always your very best performers at work because they use 100% of their brainpower on their work and are constantly trying to do better every day. Conformists on the other hand waste huge amounts of brainpower on conforming, detecting the value standards reflected in what they experience and then using those standards, not their own, as how to do their work. This is how dishonesty and disrespect from management spreads so quickly into the culture. In addition, conformists will follow bad leadership just as easily as good leadership, something non-conformists will never do.

    Ted, you make the point about executives being the same way even though surveys don’t show that. The Gallup surveys do show executives and managers as being just slightly less not engaged or actively disengaged, but the difference is not significant.

    In my last management position, I was able to convert over 80% of conformists into non-conformists and so had a workforce of Superstars where peer pressure shifted from “do whatever you need to do to get by” to “don’t expect the rest of us to pick up for you”. Peer pressure becomes an overwhelming force producing very high performance from everyone, the 500% gain Stephen Covey spoke of as being possible. I think of it as being like the “Force” in Star Wars.

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  • Randy Conley

    Right on Ted! Bringing your soul to work strikes at the heart of what it means to be authentic. We aren’t living authentically if we’re forcing ourselves to compartmentalize life – a compartment for work, one for home, one for play, one for faith, etc. I tapped into a deeper level of joy and happiness in my life when I started viewing my world holistically and integrated all these compartments into one whole.

    Thanks for the reminder and encouragement! Happy holidays to you.

    Randy

    • Suzanne, I can’t tell you how encouraging your words are – not just here (they are, and THANK YOU!!), but also in our offline friendship. And you’ve turned me into a huge Brené Brown fan as well! Wow, I love her message!!

      With your help, we’re going to bring this Human Side thing to more organizations fast and with a smiling fury that is unstoppable. I can feel it!!

  • johanngauthierakamrrenaissance

    Should work be fun… like YEAH!!! What if we unleashed brand ambassadors to let them come up with amazing creative and innovation stories of how workplaces can truly be outstanding. Innovation isn’t a process… it lies in the heart of people. Give people freedom and trust them to the right thing and Gosh, look at what they will come up with. Leaving a legacy is a basic human need. EVERY individual is born to be great hence your call to give ourselves permission to BE! The challenge is working within boxes… that kills initiative doesn’t it! I’ve started a silly list for the holidays so my sweetie and I will enjoy our time going to and being in Miami and she is doing one as well. That is awesome! What if we allowed ourselves to do this at work as well…. like YEAH!!! Be spontaneous and live fully and see the magic unfold moment by moment as our friend Achim Nowak eloquently says. Let’s stop talking about it… LET’S DO IT!!! Thanks Ted! ;)

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  • Suzanne Daigle

    Brilliant, over the top, makes my spine tingle and gives me shivers. I feel like hoping off my chair and doing my version of rap singing and dancing. How could I have missed this blog from 2 days ago! It speaks in the plainest language ever what’s needed and the secret sauce is that it’s so darn logical. This is the “Plain Talk” stuff that needs to go viral in action and in words. This is THE call to ACTION of our times and Ted you nailed it…on the head and deep. It’s the stuff of Brené Brown on steroids…the Daring Greatly for the workplace. The ROI gains on this is that you get your soul back, your health, happiness, family, community and yes, interestingly enough, the financial sustainability that CEO’s are always talking about — results that go way beyond your quarterly results. Pull out your trumpet Ted and start sharing your tune far and wide cause it sure is music to my ears.

  • Achim Nowak

    Ted … I so appreciate this impassioned post. Rave on. I call what you describe “the split.” Most C-level leaders I coach consistently split themselves off from who they really are, and most of them do not do this consciously. The split is orchestrated by a murky and subterranean notion of what it means to show up as a professional and leader. Murky because it rarely happens in the realm of conscious exploration of public performance (which I strongly champion). And what gets left in the dust is – yes – our soul. Our wholeness. Our joy.
    Rave on, my friend!!

  • Ted – great post! I am totally with you that many people don’t realize that there is a better way that is already unfolding in companies who have chosen to cast off the constraints of 20th century thinking. When we’ve been exposed to a certain type of corporate culture for a long time, there is a danger of thinking that culture is the best way or the only way. One of the big myths out there in the workplace is that “it is the same everywhere.” It isn’t.
    Thanks for providing this community of people who are working to create the human century. We are with you!
    Greg

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  • I was never trained to be a manager, I sort of fell into it and have been doing it for 8 years now. So I’ve been the real me. I am all those things at home and bring them to my workplace. I will do the hard decisions, I am analytic etc but I am also me as I do them.

    I have responsibilities to my workplace but I also have a responsibility to me and that’s how my management will work.

    I really enjoyed this post.

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  • CharityPaws

    Great post! I have been self employed as an internet entrepreneur for the last 10 years or so — and have found a way to put my soul into my work! :-) Launching a new website soon that allows me to earn income and give back an equal amount to groups I am passionate about. Our lives are short and I think it is important to find work whether with others or for ourselves that brings our souls to life — that is the path I have chosen to take! And hopefully I can hire people soon that I can also bring that same philosophy too — I have worked for so many bosses who held me back and made work a chore — and I do not think it should be! This is such a great topic…EVERY BOSS SHOULD READ IT! :-)

  • Mark Fernandes

    Ted, thank you so much for this inspiring post. We believe your philosophy of creating cultures where people can be the best version of themselves not only at home but in their job is the keys to the kingdom in the future world of work. Our companies value proposition, “Doing good, (making a difference in the lives of our associates), is the best path to doing well (exceptional personal and business performance) aligns with our mission of “Igniting Human Potential”. I believe you call this Human Business and we are sincerely grateful for your tireless efforts in sharing your philosophy (and soul) with the world.

  • Brian Rensing

    Ted – I’m not sure how I missed this post – but I am glad to have seen it today. The 70% disengaged are there largely because of the “split” both you & Achim identify.

    That split is created in one or both of two ways: 1. our “humanness” (misidentified as idealism?) is squashed when we enter a workforce that is so focused on converting all work into an algorithm; 2. We enter the workforce believing there must be a firewall between our “true” self and the self we believe we must embody. The first is clearly dehumanizing and the second, I believe, results in confusion about who is our true self. And can we ever recover?

    The good news is we can, but it takes courage and effort and persistence. If one has developed the muscle memory that leads to confusion, that must be reworked, retrained, renewed.

    I can’t decide if “authenticity” as a term is overused & little understood. But I think this post provides critical context for how authenticity is retained or recovered and why it is so important to cultivate. In a business world that seems to increasingly embracing purpose as a (the?) key business driver, it follows that leaders should encourage & expect employees to bring their souls to work. And for those businesses that do:

    * Aren’t we more attracted to these businesses?
    * Aren’t they the ones delivering a superlative customer experience?
    * Don’t they have employees that want to be there … Who love what they do?
    * Doesn’t trust run rampant in such organizations?

    Thank you, Ted, for your commitment to the human side of business!

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