People are like hardened chocolates. We build layers and layers on the outside to protect us from the dangers of the world, minimizing the risks of being human. Pretty soon, we don’t know the parts of us we have tucked away for safekeeping. But underneath those layers lie the rich, creamy, and divine part of us where our creativity, our raw vulnerability, our deepest desires, and our most magnificent ideas live. It is highly beneficial to create a work environment where employees feel safe, and they are willing to share their most vulnerable and innovative ideas. When we encourage people to bring their true self to work, everyone benefits because each individual has different opinions and approaches to bring to the table that aid in problem-solving.
Creating psychological safety is the first step in encouraging employees to bring their true self to work. When my son was a junior in college, he interned in Dallas, Texas, at Intuit, an accounting software company. On his first day, Spencer demonstrated his sensitivity by being a compassionate listener to a frustrated client. Intuit took notice, and soon he became the sympathetic ear for their agitated accounts. Intuit welcomed his individuality, his tenderness, and his true self. Instead of trying to control and micromanage him they encouraged him to let his true self shine.
The second step is giving people autonomy by promoting curiosity and experimentation. Spencer’s team had given him the cold shoulder because he was their leader and half their age. When Spencer was asked to do a product demo in front of his co-workers and company executives, he decided to start by singing the song L-O-V-E. His dad begged him not to, fearing the audience would judge his non-conformity harshly. Spencer insisted, hoping by showing his humanness, his team would connect to him. His display of vulnerability brought down the house. The crowd gave him a standing ovation.
The third step is recognizing mistakes as learning opportunities. Demanding perfection shrivels up employee’s creativity like a dried-up prune. If their creativity is trampled on, they will learn quickly to leave the most valuable part of themselves at home. No one wants their ideas to be laughed at, judged, or belittled. Make sure your employees know that all ideas are welcome, not just the good ones. When their creativity is free to run wild, new levels of solutions are readily available.
The fourth step is creating a supportive culture. If gossiping, comparing, and backstabbing are commonplace, this mean-spirited culture will be sure to discourage employees from sharing the most precious part of themselves. Pitting one employee against each other is sure to weaken the foundation of your company. On the other hand, if employees know their individuality is welcomed and embraced, they will go out of their way to bring forward the best part of themselves. Spencer gave his annual report to a room full of Intuit executives by rapping about his team’s binary numbers and coding challenges. Some people might have judged him, but Intuit saw his self-assuredness and cheered him on and sent him around the country to teach accountants about their products.
The fifth step is showing genuine appreciation for your employees’ inherent value of who they are. Appreciation is fundamental to building strong relationships and empowering teams. Recognizing employee’s kindness, thoughtfulness, or sense of humor, encourages them to bring their authentic self to work, work harder, and have greater job satisfaction. When Spencer did a product demo in Las Vegas, sporting an outrageous fuzzy vest, instead of rolling their eyes, Intuit gave him a promotion. They embraced his non-conventional ways because he had the confidence to let his true self shine.