How can you be yourself at work?

“Be yourself - everyone else is taken” - Oscar Wilde

Actually, the straight answer to this question is that you can’t be yourself at work unless your organisation creates at least the following 5 conditions: 

1. Personal Development drives Organisational Development

Organisational folks prefer the term professional development to personal development. However, this is flawed thinking and labelling. People can undergo professional development programmes that often produce better technical skills but many of the problems in organisations come from Interpersonal factors that require personal development skills.   

When personality and work preference factors clash no amount of professional ability will resolve these. People need to be on a continuous path of self improvement. To be on that path, you need to have the self-awareness to know where you are and to where you can go in terms of your potential. 

You also need to have quality feedback so you can accept yourself for who you are and for what you can become. However, quality feedback depends upon...

2. Psychological Safety

This will manifest itself as trust. When embraced fully it allows people to take risks. Through Psychological Safety people can begin to deal with their fears of being vulnerable, to express themselves openly, to receive appropriate feedback, to accept themselves and others as and where they are at any given point in time, and to believe in their potential to grow. 

Psychological Safety is essential for people to show collaborative intent, to be trusting, to be self-aware and self-accountable, and to deal with conflict when it arises. When it’s not present, it contributes to high levels of Defensiveness and this spreads like a virus leading to organisational paralysis. 

On the other side of the equation, without Psychological Safety an organisation is depriving itself of insights, creativity, innovation and productivity - all elements that fuel and support growth for individuals, teams and the organisation as a whole.

3. Acknowledgement of Strengths

People need to be reassured that they have strengths. And, that these strengths are being used to the full. What’s the point in having your best goal scorer playing as goalkeeper? 

Also, how do you deal with the realisation that you’ve recruited a team of 11 goalkeepers? Or, that some individual strengths complement other people's and some can be a source of conflict in teams. 

This leads to...

4. Recognition of Blind Spots 

We all have them but they’re not so easy to identify or to acknowledge without Psychological Safety. The irony is that a Blind Spot can be created by a strength that is not counter-balanced. This can occur at an individual, team or organisational level. 

As a leader, I could be extremely Warm and Empathetic (a strength) but if this quality is not balanced by an ability to Enforce rules, meet deadlines, hold people accountable, etc… I can be taken advantage of or seen as a push over by peers or superiors. Worse still, under stress I might “flip” and become extremely Harsh on someone who unwittingly creates a “straw that breaks the camel’s back”.

This is like a tennis player only using his or her forehand and not knowing how to improve their backhand stroke or even being aware that they need their backhand in many situations. 

Because it’s a blind spot you will not notice it, but others will. Therefore, what you need is...

5. A Reliable Toolbox

All of the above will lead to nothing but frustration unless you feel that you have a way to do something about it. In what are known as Deliberately Developmental Organisations that have embraced these principles, all employees and teams are following Development Paths and these are transparent so they can all support each other along the way. 

We offer a range of tried and tested tools and culture change programmes to make this all happen in a safe and effective way. 

Contact me if you’d like to learn more. 

Coming up next time: we'll explore how to improve engagement at work. 


A job applicant was asked, “What would you consider to be your main strengths and weaknesses?”

“Well,” he began, “my main weakness would definitely be my issues with reality – sometimes I have a little trouble telling what’s real from what’s not.”

“Okay,” said the interviewer. “And what are your strengths?”

“I’m Batman.”

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