Bringing Your Whole Self to Work: Taking Space and Finding Grace

COVID-19 forever changed the way we work. Some of us have gone fully remote, others hybrid — while essential workers are still bravely facing each day on the front lines. But, perhaps more importantly, the pandemic has also changed how we approach our work, especially as it impacts our personal lives. Today, employees are not only searching for work that offers them opportunities for professional growth, but workplaces that encourage authenticity, personal connection, and belonging. In the age of “Quiet Quitting” and “The Great Resignation”, modern leaders are wisely taking note.

In truth, even prior to the pandemic, there were signs that a sea change was approaching. In his 2018 book, Bring Your Whole Self to Work: How Vulnerability Unlocks Creativity, Connection, and Performance, Mike Robbins wrote,

“Bringing our whole selves to work means showing up authentically, leading with humility, and remembering that we’re all vulnerable, imperfect human beings doing the best we can.”

As my team and I seek solid ground after the past two and a half years of upheaval, I’ve thought about this a lot. At Skillsoft, we have always believed people do their best work when they feel they are valued for who they really areand met with both curiosity and compassion. Still, I’ve found that discussing vulnerability in a business setting is sometimes met with a hefty dose of skepticism. I get it. But, the truth is, vulnerability is actually a power skill. In other words, as Brené Brown says, it’s time to “dispel the myth that vulnerability is weakness … that it is, in truth, our most accurate measure of courage.”

Why? Because it leads to discovery, growth, and opportunity.

So, how do we “bring our whole selves to work” — and allow others the same freedom — while remaining professional and productive?

Allow me to share a personal example. I took my daughter Petra back to college yesterday. While it was easier than last year (don’t even ask), I still found the process unsettling … and when I got home, the house too quiet. Shutterfly was nice enough to remind me that thirteen years ago, I left her in a large cafeteria with scores of children from various grades — a “before school” program — as she entered public school for the first time. It was difficult then, but nothing compares to packing up a child and watching her move out. There’s a permanence, and a vulnerability, I didn’t anticipate.

The thing is, I didn’t have the time to sit and ponder my transition to empty nester. (Again.) I’m busier than ever at work, with some exciting professional transitions in play, too. So, as I wrote my weekly note to my team, I added something a bit, well, vulnerable:

“If I don’t seem like myself today, please understand that I’m a bit RED.”

You see, we’ve started this simple stoplight exercise in leadership meetings — Red, Yellow, Green — to check in on everyone’s mood and feelings heading into our discussions. It allows us to share where we are, take space if necessary, and give grace to others who might not be in the best place emotionally, physically, or mentally. Whether it’s for personal or professional reasons, the simple stoplight requires no explanation (or the dreaded “oversharing”) and offers no judgment.

And so, that day, I was Red. And that was okay. I imagine that soon I’ll settle back into the routine we had during my daughter’s freshman year and find myself back at the Green I am most days.

Life transitions like this one can be wonderous and amazing. After all, this is what we want for our children and for ourselves. But it doesn’t make them any less challenging. I know several of my colleagues have sent children to school for the first time … or off to college like I have. Others are sharing their vulnerability, and finding their core of resilience, after losses of a different kind. Perhaps you are, too.

Wishing you many Green days ahead. And, on your Red days, I hope that your workplace offers you the space to stop, recharge, and move forward with grace.

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