Were they even capable of holding space for the messiness of life?
I remember growing up, my parents would often tell me how important it was to leave my personal life at the door. When I joined the workforce, I was initally grateful for that lesson, because it was often preached by the people leading the organizations that I worked for. Each day I’d show up pressing the mute button on my life ready to get to work.
When real life problems began to show up, I felt shame because I could not show up fully to work. Not fully as myself, and not fully in the mindset to do my work. Though my performance never really suffered, I wondered what it would be like if I could share honestly with my leadership. Would they respond with compassion, judgement, or not at all? Were they even capable of holding space for the messiness of life? Needless to say, I never really trusted leaders who did not allow me or my coworkers to show up as the full human beings that we are.
As I moved into leadership roles, I wanted my employees to feel seen and heard. I got to know them as individuals and welcomed them and their full humanness – tears, laughter, anger- all if it. A couple times I had candidates cry in their interview, and to their disbelief they were surprised when they were offered the job. Later I had one come to me to apologize for crying in the interview. They said that they could not believe they were hired after crying in the interview. I assured this employee, that tears do not turn me away, as they are a normal part of being human. I then asked about the family member who they were concerned about during the interview. I would often tell team members that my office was not a “tear free zone”. We cried, laughed, prayed, what ever they needed in the moment.
The more genuine we were with each other, the deeper the trust became. Employees brought more of their own ideas and innovation into the workplace, because they trusted that their ideas and opinions were valued. I noticed that they cared more about the work they did because they were seen and cared for as a whole human. This was very beneficial, especially when the work involved customer service, as the customers were the ones reaping the benefits of dedicated service providers.
As I look at the workplace today, I cannot imagine having a workplace where the human aspect is muted. I have come to disagree with the “leave home at home” mindset. Our world has been turned upside down. In the middle of a pandemic, navigating working remotely, isolation, grief and loss of loved ones, or relationships – everyone is going through something at some level. In our hurting world, I invite you to lean in and embrace the humanity of your employees. How are they hurting, or celebrating? If this is something you are not accustomed to, it’s ok. Acknowledge that part of yourself, and get professional assistance to help guide you towards building a better work environment for you teams.
Investing in your teams during these difficult times will strengthen you as a leader, build your credibility and build resilience for your organization. In time your employees will deepen their commitment to their work, and your customer will reap the benefits as well.