When you work in any organization, large or small, there are basic rules and norms that you take for granted.
You’re required to be honest and do the right thing, to show loyalty and keep a certain level of confidentiality.
You’re expected to behave in ways that respect the workplace and its people, like basic good manners. These are givens.
But once you take care of those absolutes, there’s a lot more flexibility than you might imagine and a lot more freedom for being yourself than you think. You do have choice.
Several years ago, when I was hired as an internal Human Resource and Organization Development consultant, there was a great deal of conflict in the organization and the department.
They had spent millions of dollars over 5 years reinventing the corporate culture through an external and controversial consulting group, and now that team was leaving and in its wake were seriously hurt feelings among the employees.
If I had played it safe or quiet, I would not have made myself available to hear the pain of those who’d been affected by the turbulence of those years.
By using my natural gifts of a deep sense of humanity and listening, I built lasting relationships with many key players in those early days.
As the new kid on the block, I could have kept quiet and not let my feelings show. But that wouldn’t have been real. And I wouldn’t have made those connections.
Was I confident? No.
Was I comfortable? No.
Was I worried that it was too risky? Yes.
I was going on instinct, in many ways irrepressibly myself, and I wished that someone had told me then that being fully myself was going to pay off.
I wish someone could have told me to lean into my strengths and know that they would carry me.
I would have had better sleep at night.
So that’s why I’m here to share with you what I know and learned after working inside organizations as a leader for 35+ years.
Being Yourself Helps Everyone
I’m going to assume that you are not working in a place with a culture that you hate. If you do, then that’s a separate issue.
If you work, like most people, in a relatively interesting environment where they’ve hired you for your skills, perspectives and attitudes, the thing you need is to be as much of who you are as possible.
Though you may think that there is a big difference between you at work and your private self, the core essential YOU will not be kept down or hidden.
You may think otherwise, but eventually you’ll burst. Something of the real you leaks through, like it or not.
Your arm will get tired holding that big beach ball underwater. Eventually your muscles will burn and your ball will escape skyward.
You might bite your tongue in meetings, sitting on those thoughts and ideas.
But keeping silent will result in tight shoulders, massive headaches and likely some anger aimed at others.
You know what they say about body language being 75-80% of the message? I rest my case.
You were not meant to lead your life hiding under a rock.
You were not meant to live your life as a turtle if you are an eagle.
In fact, new ideas don’t come when all the good little soldiers are neatly lined up.
Intense, juicy and messy conversations give rise to aha moments. Skin in the game, as they say.
Innovation, creativity, novelty and necessary change all come when minds are at play – sometimes alone, sometimes together.
But you can stop thinking that being quiet or small and not being yourself will get you there. You’ll just look like a person wearing a very tight and painful corset and your veins will pop.
You don’t have to fit in and eclipse your unique light for the sake of the corporate culture.
In fact, if the business is to thrive, the culture needs you as yourself, in order to reinvent itself and keep up with the required changes.
Allowing yourself freedom means that as you shine, your confidence and energy grow. So does your health. So does the health of your organization.
Did you ever think that being yourself and being different was going to be your key advantage? Your edge? It is!
Over To You
If you could be yourself in the workplace, what’s one thing you’d do differently? How would that make you feel? What benefit do you see for your organization?
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© Miriam Linderman 2016