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Posted by on Dec 18, 2013 in Business, Culture, Featured, Inspirational, Leadership, Strengths | 28 comments

Go Ahead, Bring Your Soul to Work


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!


  • 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.

Did you like today’s post? If so you’ll love our frequent newsletter! Sign up HERE and receive The Switch and Shift Change Playbook, by Shawn Murphy, as our thanks to you!

  Image credit- nexusplexus / 123RF Stock Photo


Ted Coiné

Ted Coiné

Ted Coiné is co-founder/CEO of, where he is host of Switch and Shift TV, weekly interviews with extraordinary thinkers focusing on the human side of business. One of the most influential business experts on the Web, Ted has been top-ranked by Forbes and Huffington Post for his leadership and social media influence. An inspirational speaker and author, his latest book, A World Gone Social: How Companies Must Adapt to Survive will hit bookstores August, 2014. Ted consults with owners, CEOs and boards of directors on modern corporate strategy. He and his family live in Naples, Florida, where Ted is active in the local tech startup community.

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  • John Michel

    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.

    • TedCoine

      Thank you, John. I’m convinced that, together – and with ever-more friends helping us give the permission I wrote of today – we can effect a powerful, lasting shift in how leaders of all stripes lead. The change is coming. It’s already manifesting all around us. I’m just glad to be here to help make the transition smoother and quicker.

  • Scott Mabry

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

    • TedCoine

      Scott, Attribution has been added. I’m sorry I didn’t credit you from the word go – I’ve been looking at your tagline for quite a while, and clearly it left an impression. Thank you for leading me into this post, my friend :)

      • Scott Mabry

        It’s a great post Ted…had to give you a little bit of a nudge…couldn’t help it. :) Thank you for sharing this message and for your support. Really appreciate your lessons on leadership and organizations.

  • Danielle Aaronson

    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

    • TedCoine

      Danielle, you are fortunate indeed to work at a company with such a clearly enlightened management culture! Unfortunately, that’s still rare. Fortunately, that’s getting ever-less rare as we transition our of the Industrial Age and into the Social Age.

      Thanks for your comment and you have some Happy Holidays too! I catch the vibe that won’t be a problem for you.

  • Ben Simonton

    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.

    • TedCoine

      Ben, I love that you use the Force in your remarks – awesome! I think it’s completely apt in this context; it’s what I sometimes call the Zen of leadership.

      Interesting that we both suffered from repeated bouts of pneumonia as kids, as did my Dad. He wasn’t supposed to live, either; my situation was far less dramatic, but still, getting very sick with lung maladies every winter of my life till I was 25 certainly left its mark. I agree, this type of uncommon experience is bound to produce a nonconformist, which I like to call a misfit. I’m with you, too, on the benefits misfits bring to the workplace. Want creativity (which in today’s era of knowledge work is essential)? Gather misfits!

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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.


    • TedCoine

      Randy, thanks for the thumbs up – coming from you, that carries a lot of weight with me.

      I think there are three populations out there. The first is like us, people who are in an environment where they can be their whole selves all the time, and never have to pretend. We’re lucky, even if we made that luck ourselves (as my Dad used to say) by finding humancentric employers like Blanchard in your case and making one as Shawn, Mark, and I are doing with S&S.

      The second are stuck in a bad situation, maybe even a toxic one, where the culture of the org simply will not tolerate bringing their whole selves to work. I’ve been there – I think all of us have, at least if we’ve been around a while. Hopefully sooner rather than later these people will find or make a new situation for themselves, and leave the unhealthy one behind.

      The third population is composed of people who can change their workplace culture if they choose – they don’t have to leave to find a better place; they can make their current situation better if they choose. These are most typically managers, of all levels within an org. It’s largely to them I write, to gently prod them into change by showing them what things can look like if they emulate the healthier companies out there. Often, permission is what they’re most in need of. “Really?” I get a lot. “You mean, if we stop acting like toy soldiers, our stockholders will actually benefit?”

      Yes, my friends. Yes.

      Randy, you have a terrific Christmas and New Year’s, too!

  • 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! ;)

    • TedCoine

      Johann, my friend, you’re even MORE of a genius than I think you realize. Read over what you said:

      “Leaving a legacy is a basic human need.”

      I’ve never seen or heard it put quite like that before, and I L-O-V-E it! Like Achim’s line, above, I’m stealing (umm, I mean “borrowing”) this one, too. It really is true, you know. That’s what we do when we have a family: our family is our legacy. That’s what the wealthy do when they endow an organization: that’s their legacy, something that will live on after they’ve gone. Rulers commission statues, authors write books, composers write symphonies. ALL of us yearn to make a dent in this universe that outlives us. And through our work, even if we aren’t wealthy or artistic, we can all do it by leaving behind an organization that is stronger for our having worked there, and coworkers whose lives are better for having known us.

      Leaving a legacy is a basic human need. – Johann Gauthier.

      You nailed it!!

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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.

    • TedCoine

      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!!

  • 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!!

    • TedCoine

      Thank you so much, Achim! I love that term: “the split” has just entered my quiver.

      FOLKS: I am rereading Achim’s latest book, “Infectious,” really taking my time to savor it this time – savor, and take copious notes. I cannot recommend it highly enough for leaders at ANY stage of their career. It isn’t often that I read something over, I sadly admit. This Extraordinary Thinker’s book? You must read it! You’ll thank me.

  • Greg Marcus

    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!

    • TedCoine

      Greg, I know you are (with me), and let me tell you something: more anything else I’ve done in my career, more than any of the ranking by this magazine or that, the one thing I’m proudest of after my family is Switch and Shift. This still-nascent community of purpose that WE are still just starting together…? This is what brings me the most joy and meaning at work.

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  • Tania Shipman

    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.

    • TedCoine

      Tania, you’re awesome – thanks so much for sharing your real-life experience! And yes, I’m so with you. You still have to lead, even as a humancentric leader. But no one should ever have to fake who they are. I’ve done it (I think we all have if we’ve been around for a while), and it stinks. It drained me of a lot of my energy – and thus of a lot of what made me a desirable, promotable leader in the first place!!

      You’re psyched you can be the real you at work. Don’t take a management class. Looks like maybe you should be teaching one instead ;)

      • Tania Shipman

        Thanks Ted.

        I see the fakes in various positions. I can’t see the sense in it.

        Thanks for the comment about teaching a management class, I’m starting to do that on my blog. :)

        I did end up taking a management course, I got my Diploma of Management in 2013, however it was AFTER I built my skills. Pretty much the same way I got my certifications in Business Administration and Workplace Training. I did it first, then got the paper work to prove I could do it.

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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! :-)

    • TedCoine

      Thank you, Jill! You sound like the type of boss who deserves a thriving business – and usually the two go hand in hand :) Go get ‘em, and keep us posted on how the launch goes!

      • Jill Caren – CharityPaws

        Thanks @TedCoine:disqus ! I just hired my first 2 people this week – very exciting! Official launch of @charitypaws:disqus will be first week of April!!!!

  • 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.

    • TedCoine


      Thank YOU for living what we write about at the Luck Companies. Examples like yours are what turn this website from a rant to a how-to model.

      And let me welcome you to our community now with huge congratulations for your outstanding first post* this week! I’m looking forward to a lot more where that came from.


  • 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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