3 Key Behaviors for Bringing Your Whole Self to Work

UPDATED: May 19, 2023
PUBLISHED: October 16, 2019
3 Key Behaviors for Bringing Your Whole Self to Work

Professionals around the world are standing together at a crossroads: We’ve met at the intersection of emerging technical disruption and the future of work. It’s a busy, chaotic place. Some naysayers are waving banners of warning, convinced technology will end our usefulness and purpose. But my forecast for tomorrow is much brighter.

This isn’t to suggest their concerns aren’t valid. Technology can be used nefariously, no doubt. But it also gives humanity the opportunity to thrive like never before: Its connectivity allows us to meet at this crossroads and determine the next right step. And I’m hoping more people will choose the road that leads to true personal and professional bliss. Why? Everyone can leverage technology to align to his or her passion.

In fact, it’s already happening. Record labels have unearthed and ultimately signed YouTube singers, artists have sold their work through online marketplaces, writers of self-published Amazon books have hit The New York Times’ best-seller list. The stories go on and on.

They’re all indicative of technology’s power to turn a hobby into a legitimate business. More importantly, they’re signs that even among something as vast and omnipresent as the internet—accompanied by the feeling that we’re all moving a little further away from each other—we’re still capable of finding connections, passions and inner happiness.

In my consulting organization, we don’t just talk about the mechanics of starting and scaling businesses. We encourage leaders to see their true selves more clearly by exploring relationships with family, friends and co-workers. Additionally, we encourage them to embrace self-awareness and fears. This provides a better sense of how to achieve balance in all they do.

If you crave the idea of bringing your whole self to work (and life), don’t idle at the crossroads. The way to reinvent and reimagine your experiences—personally and professionally—is by adopting and honing three key behaviors:

1. Practice authenticity.

To bring your heart, mind and soul to work, surrender anything that keeps you from being authentic. But know that authenticity doesn’t just mean being true to you; it also requires enough self-awareness to understand how others see you.

What does that look like in practice? A manager I work alongside reviewed and challenged a direct report. The manager came across so harshly that his employee walked out the next day. Although the manager thought he was practicing authenticity, he wasn’t being comprehensively authentic. He hadn’t considered others’ perceptions of him. In the future, I suggested he ask himself whether he was coming across too abrasively and then adjust accordingly.

I still work on this myself. Most recently, my wife noticed a minor authenticity hiccup in me:

“Look at yourself in the mirror when you say certain things,” she said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Just watch how your expressions change when you get animated. You look angry when, in fact, you’re just excitable.”

She was right. Inherently, I was animated about a subject, but on the surface, I looked downright mad. I encourage others to practice this mirror maneuver, too. Look at your reflection and watch how your expressions change during certain emotions or conversations. Pay attention to how you come off; this is ultimately how others see you.

We all have blind spots. Yet if we don’t practice all aspects of authenticity, we can’t build trust. Without trust, people won’t accept constructive criticism or look to improve. The only way employees will accept your words is if the promise to always have their backs exists behind them. Tremendous loyalty will follow.

And if you plan to embrace the internet and its ability to secure success, authenticity is paramount. Consider the unexpected success of mom and recovering addict Tiffany Jenkins. To date, her YouTube channel has close to 150,000 subscribers, and it’s not because she’s a must-follow celebrity, Olympian or CEO. She’s simply as authentic as they come. Jenkins is candid about her past drug abuse and even more candid about her chaotically funny life as a mom and wife. Because she’s honest about her struggles, successes and fears, people are naturally drawn to her.

As author and psychologist Karissa Thacker notes, “People follow authenticity. They are searching for it.”

2. Exhibit vulnerability.

In all-hands staff meetings, I openly share some of my struggles and successes. Because of this, other team members know they, too, can put themselves out there. To know yourself, you must be known to others: This means bringing more than your functional content to the leadership table; you must open the window into who you are as a person.

Being vulnerable requires also valuing others’ vulnerabilities, even if they don’t talk about them. Here’s the big secret no one discusses: Everyone you talk to is probably carrying a difficult burden. Help people learn to accept and define their own vulnerabilities by being OK with your own.

Unfortunately, today’s technology and social platforms make it all too easy to hide behind perfectly Instagrammed food photos or vacation selfies, removing any hope of ever showing our true, vulnerable selves. So by showing your own vulnerability—warts, weaknesses and worries—it gives others “permission” to do the same. As humans, we’re wired to be known and seen, but few leaders model this or provide a venue to share. A shared connection is the foundation for effective conflict and ultimate business results.

In her famous TEDxHouston Talk, renowned researcher Brené Brown explored the value of vulnerability. In her research, vulnerable people perceived the emotion as both necessary and beautiful. Brown herself sees vulnerability as proof of life. And while it can be tough to take risks without guarantees, it puts you in a position to be seen for who you are. Feeling that way at work provides tremendous strength and improves your ability to focus and make wise decisions.

3. Practice awareness—especially “respond versus react.”

When someone challenges me, my initial reaction is defensiveness. But I’m training myself to step outside of the moment and pause: What triggers of reactivity am I experiencing? This is a key space; it’s the time between seeing my own reactivity and developing a thoughtful response.

I’ll ask myself, “Why am I physically reacting like this? Is something I’m hearing true?” Many times, what people say harshly has a grain of truth. Their feedback might be mostly false, but the nugget of honesty can benefit you down the road. Responding in a kind, calm, appreciative manner helps you consider which nuggets to own or change.

To be sure, technology has made feeling the love more difficult. On social media, we show only our curated faces, which manipulate perception. It’s hard not to feel envious of others’ “perfect” lives, but those images are not reality. We’re all facing trials, and now is the time when we need others to see ourselves. Not bringing our whole selves to our creative work only makes our personal and working lives tougher, keeping us from enjoying our chosen roles.

Tomorrow will come, but we don’t have to be afraid of it. If we approach our work with authenticity, vulnerability and awareness, the future holds unimaginable possibilities. We all have a choice to make: to live and work in isolation and fear, or to embrace abundance and live as our true selves. Which will you choose?

Related: The SUCCESS Guide to Authenticity

Photo by Asier Romero / Shutterstock.com

Vance Brown is the CEO of National Cybersecurity Center and the co-founder of Cherwell Software. With more than 20 years in tech and leadership, Vance regularly mentors entrepreneurs through Thrivers, an organization that utilizes holistic frameworks for developing leaders. Vance is the recipient of Wake Forest University’s Excellence in Entrepreneurship Award, and he was a 2014 EY Entrepreneur of the Year award winner. Additionally, Colorado Springs named him “Business Citizen of the Year” in 2018. Find his book Thrivers on Amazon.