I started my business when I was 24 and overnight I fell into a leadership role with no real management experience. With no mentors by my side and no guidance on how it be a great coach, I learnt the hard way, making many mistakes along the way. What I was doing was following the textbooks to develop my teams, but I had freedom from reporting my performance to anyone else.
I came into work with a really standard mindset and approach which is the textbook stuff. Staff perform – fantastic, retain them. When staff don’t perform, put them into a performance management plan. Whether it was our employment lawyers or the business textbooks, the advice did not take into consideration that we are interacting and engaging on a human level. We are so much more complex, and the black and white suggestions for driving performance are just that, too black and white with no shades. One of my realisations as the business grew and we continued to have a diverse workforce is that every person has this ‘work mask’. That mask can sometimes be thicker depending on the environment. I continued to wonder, how do I get people to relax and as much as possible and come to work in their most authentic self?
I knew that we all have the potential to be really creative and give our best only when we don’t hold layers of limitations on ourselves. I also understood that these limitations are only imposed when we feel judged.
I knew this because I have experienced having those times where I felt so judged I felt my mask becoming thicker. In those very times I felt it to be most challenging to be creative and add any value.
What has helped me realise my potential as a leader is that I never worked long enough in any other business to know that there are subtle ‘workplace behaviours’ that everyone mutually agrees to and conforms to in the workplace. I never learnt how to differentiate between my work and personal life. There isn’t a line that I can draw between these aspects of me and overtime I have become incredibly comfortable with that.
As my comfort levels grew and I loved being myself at work so much, I loved that I would be bringing all aspects of me into the workplace. I have no baggage and constraints on how much I choose to give of myself. I wanted everyone to experience this and feel the joy that comes when we can truly be ourselves, our whole selves. All those aspects, that are playful, spontaneous, passionate and purposeful. I also came to experience that the more playful I allowed myself to be at work, the easier it was for me to retain focus when I needed it. If we give ourselves permission to allow the variety of expressions it will come through in our work, which is exactly the quality of work we need. Our work outputs also benefit from shades.
People that work in our business soon come to realise that they can be whoever they are at home, here. They can have days when they are feeling off and not be penalised. They can have times of the year when performance deflates, and they won’t be punished or performance managed. They are supported instead.
I think having the carrot and stick approach only creates fear. Fear is a great motivator in the short term. However, this is non-lasting and not sustainable. Acceptance, tolerance, compassion… all of these virtues in leadership are much more lasting ways to support our thriving workplaces and gives permission for people to bring more of themselves into work.