The Boardroom Series: Bringing your team’s whole self to the workplace

Published by Charlotte Wiseman on June 20th 2023, 3:03pm

Last month’s Boardroom Series article considered how leaders can bring their whole selves to work. In today’s article, Charlotte Wiseman and co-author Tim Kirk consider what leaders can do to encourage their team members to do the same.

What do we mean by whole self?

Bringing our whole self to work means being authentic and working with an appreciation of all our emotions. That means acknowledging to ourselves and others that our feelings in the workplace can include hopes, optimism, and joy as well as fears, doubts and stress.

The gains from improved openness can include more innovation, better collaboration, increased willingness to learn and enhanced wellbeing. And learning to accept doubts, fears, and worries removes the “tyranny of positivity” [hyper link here?] that suppresses negative thoughts and can create a dangerous build-up of stress and anxiety.

As in our previous article, we will draw on 5 dimensions described by Mike Robbins, writing for Berkeley University, for bringing your whole self to work and consider how leaders can use these to influence team members’ behaviour.

However, as always, an important caution is to ensure there is no pressure for your team members to over-share or to reveal things that are uncomfortable or should remain private.

1. Embrace authenticity:

Every business and team will face challenges and setbacks. With these usually come stress and uncomfortable emotions. But to keep morale high and people focused, do not dismiss team members’ concerns by promoting unrealistic optimism or hiding team members’ heads in the sand. These approaches can damage trust, increase stress and lead to disappointment.

Reduce anxiety and encourage team members to generate solutions and buy into actions by openly explaining your understanding of the situation, the challenges ahead, and, importantly, what is being done about them. As a leader, it can also help when you are willing to share your feelings and hopes for the period ahead.

Invite team members to share their concerns, what is helping them most and what they find most challenging. In groups, invite teams to share their successes with each other and make requests for the support from you and from colleagues that would be most helpful to them. This can be cathartic and act as a catalyst for greater team cohesion and action.

2. Utilise the power of appreciation:

Appreciation of others’ contributions promotes wellbeing, builds confidence, reinforces positive behaviours and creates cohesion. But Gallup research shows that only 23% of employees strongly agree that they get the right amount of recognition for the work they do.

Find opportunities to say “thank you” and to show appreciation of team members. Whether in-the-moment, such as thanking someone in a meeting for their contribution, or after the event, such as achieving a milestone on a project, make sure this is meaningful and specifies the attribute, action or outcome you are appreciating and why.

Leading by example, and by encouraging others, create a network of appreciation, where all colleagues watch out for others’ strengths and show appreciation to each other for a job well done or a positive contribution to their day, regardless of role or hierarchy.

3. Focus on emotional agility

It’s impossible not to attach emotions to events at work. But ignoring or suppressing emotions means they can cloud decision making, create stress and ultimately boil over.

Emotional agility helps people to face into their feelings without being overwhelmed or derailed by them, and to understand the root cause of their emotional reaction. With this insight, they can make better decisions - based on their values and intellect - whilst also reducing stress.

We encourage creating an environment where your team can embrace emotional agility - being open to their own emotions and also being better attuned to what matters most to their colleagues.

Let your team share with each other what’s important to them and know that doubt, apprehension and frustration are as valid and permissible as excitement, hope and joy. The freedom to navigate different emotions can help team members to deal with challenging realties and improve reactions to colleagues and difficult situations.

This does not always come easy and can be a gradual process. We are often asked to provide specific training or coaching to help create the psychological safety so that team members feel comfortable being open, and to help them to identify and act with knowledge of their emotional responses.

4. Use a growth mindset

One of our favourite quotes is from Thomas Edison: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”.

A growth mindset values ideas, learning and progress over perfection. And to ensure the flow of ideas continues, it makes sure ideas that fail aren’t penalised.

To get the best out of your team, celebrate failure consciously by focusing on what was learned, not what went wrong.

Start by letting your team know that you don’t have all the answers, asking them what you’ve missed, and being open about your failures and what you learned from them. And use team meetings and individual catch-ups to invite team members to share their biggest learns of the week – what went wrong and what lessons did they take?

Encouraging people to be open about their “failures”, without fear of punishment or criticism, is part of a culture of psychological safety where people are more likely to bring their whole self to work, collaborate with others, and innovate or take risks.

5. Create a champion team

You should always be striving to create a champion team. But we often see leaders failing to get the best out of talented teams. When under pressure or lacking in confidence (in themselves and / or their team), common signatures of a stressed leader are micromanagement and a lack of delegation or collaboration. Unless broken, this creates a cycle of disempowerment for the team, more work for the leader and less likelihood of the best decisions being made.

Therefore, set yourself the challenge to trust your team even more than you already do, and inspire them with confidence by demonstrating your confidence in them. Mistakes and diversity are part of the journey. So even if they don’t do something the way you would have done it, you have all had the chance to learn and grow and the next time will be even better.

Key to this can be embracing strengths-based leadership, consciously finding and playing to all the diverse strengths in your team. When we have worked on this with clients, we have seen it dramatically change the nature of the workplace and accelerate the team’s satisfaction and performance.

Your takeaway

As you and your teams manage complexity and ambiguity, so comes a natural level of stress. But shying away from this stress does not help. It inhibits collaboration and innovation and creates built ups of stress and anxiety that will eventually bubble over.

Embracing emotional agility and creating the conditions that allow your team members to bring more of their whole selves to work, can help to create a stronger bond with and within your teams, leading to a more positive workplace and improved collective performance.

Many of the suggestions outlined in this article can be easily followed. But we have found that the best results are achieved when leaders take a structured approach, often working with a coach and involving training for them and their team.

About the authors:

Tim Kirk has worked with boards and leadership teams globally to improve performance and is Managing Partner of Charlotte Wiseman Leadership and Wellbeing Consultancy. Tim can be contacted at tim@charlottewiseman.com

Charlotte Wiseman is a leader in the field of preventing burnout and is the Founder and CEO of Charlotte Wiseman Leadership and Wellbeing Consultancy. Charlotte can be contacted at charlotte@charlottewiseman.com

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Authored By

Charlotte Wiseman
Leadership & Wellbeing Consultant at Charlotte Wiseman Leadership & Wellbeing Consultants
June 20th 2023, 3:03pm

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