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Divided No More

Category: Work – Integrated Self

Date: April 13, 2021

Atif Iqbal, a certified leadership and personal transformation coach, joined us for an indelible conversation about bringing your whole self to work; starting over by integrating the personal identity into the professional self. 

The Challenges Behind Working with Integrity 

Many of us have a professional self and there are many aspects of ourselves that we leave at home when we physically go to work (in virtual contexts, we still assume a professional identity during work hours). As a result, we lead fragmented lives, showing up as a fraction of the human being that we are.

Frederic Laloux’s Reinventing Organizations explores the evolution of organizations. When organizations lack vitality, it is because people show up from the point of view of the ego; intent to win battles, be viewed positively, succeed professionally, and leave a good impression, but they leave behind a deeper self, including hobbies, interests, beliefs, and our deepest hopes. Because it feels risky to speak our truth. What’s worse is that we don’t just not talk about it, sometimes we silence it even to ourselves. 

Then beyond the ego, we all (whether man or woman) have masculine and feminine energies. The masculine energy is associated with the desire to win, to be seen as decisive and possessing the “right” answer. The feminine energy is associated with caring for other people, being reflective, showing vulnerability, and asking for help as necessary. People often learn that showing up with masculine energy is valued at work and end up hiding personal doubts and vulnerabilities – losing touch with an essential part of who we are and also on personal developmental and growth opportunities.

Finally, we all have rational, emotional, intuitive, and spiritual sides. In most workplaces, the rational side (arguments and data) are welcome. But, emotions are not. People are skeptical of intuition unless it can be defended with facts and figures. And, hardly anyone wants to talk about their spiritual side. Accordingly, we choose to hide everything else other than our rational side.

Atif added that our comfort with hiding parts ourselves has deep roots in childhood. We often learn to hide elements of our personality so we can win love and affection from parents and authority figures – because we are so dependent on others for our survival and needs. Over a period of time, we move so far away from our essential self, that we only feel a vague sense of discomfort without being able to pinpoint or articulate what that is. (Atif added afterwards that the cost of inauthenticity isn’t visible till much later on, in the shape of psychological distress: compulsions, addictions, depressions… that force us to confront what we’ve been avoiding and incorporate greater authenticity in our lives. He’s seen this in all his clients seeking to chart a different path for themselves at mid-life). 

Bringing Your Whole Self To Work

Showing up fully can enable you to be more effective and experience more fulfillment at your job. When we incorporate all that we keep hidden into our lives, the qualities and traits serve as a source of renewal, growth, strength, and wisdom.

Atif described a client situation where the desired coaching goal was to be better at communication, in particular being better equipped at making sales presentations. Atif asked the client about his passions and hobbies, so he could see him at his most relaxed, passionate, and driven self. During the discovery phase, Atif found out that the client was really creative, and wrote comics on the side. Atif supported him to use more of the person who writes the comics to frame his professional communication. As a result, the client started to bring that artistic side of himself to his work, using more images as opposed to text-heavy slides, and more in-person tweaks and guiding the client to see where and what to look at – to great success. The client gave himself greater permission and created that space for his innate artistry to emerge and shine. 

Atif noted that he was not suggesting to share deep, dark secrets of ourselves at work. He added that we have all experienced situations in our personal lives when someone shared something deeply personal way too early in the relationship, which caused us to retreat from the relationship as opposed to solidifying it. There is a necessary, measured progression that needs to unfold, over time.

The Shift to Authenticity

Atif shared that leadership development has historically been seen as skill-based but now there is a new consideration of personal well-being. This change is being driven by a generational shift. By 2025, Millennials and Gen Z will be 75% of the workforce, and they want organizations to be authentic and live their values. Thus, these organizational changes including a focus on having the right culture are demand-driven, forcing companies to operate this way to attract the best and brightest.

The onus is on leadership within organizations to establish the culture and expectations: what it feels like to interact with the company. Leaders need to model authenticity and personal vulnerability to create a climate of psychological safety – where employees believe they can take interpersonal risks and feel confident that they can share without adverse consequences. That will cascade change across the organization.

Additional paths to power: Self-Knowledge and Self-Acceptance

  • Shift your view of power. It is traditionally thought of as authoritative, top-down, leaving out the profound power of relationships – to shape the results we want.
  • Start from self-acceptance.
  • Embrace who you are as a person (including strengths, gifts, and limitations). It’s only when you can accept yourself as you are, can you begin to change. (Drawing parallels between our personal journey and a road trip, to get to a defined destination, we need both a map and clarity on where we are right now).
  • Dig into emotional literacy. Emotional Literacy (as opposed to Emotional Intelligence or EQ) is heart-centered. (See attachment for the emotion & feeling wheel which will help you identify and thus be more aware of your emotions.)
  • Gain knowledge about your emotions. Emotions are essential data, as they can reveal something important about ourselves to ourselves and what is true for us.
  • Knowledge of emotions also helps our intuition with what the other person is feeling and experiencing. This leads to greater empathy, a driver for strong relationships.
  • Also, grow your awareness of how your physical presence is helping or limiting you. The way we sit and stand can change the way we think and speak. Sitting up straight and breathing deeply makes us open to relationships and experiences. It shifts us into an expansive state giving us the confidence to ask for what we want. Take the time you need to center yourself – this often takes only 2 minutes – and enter into your power.

Atif left us with the wisdom that we underestimate the extent to which we live our lives unconsciously, out of habit or routine, as opposed to living consciously, in full awareness. He then invited us to adopt two practices:

1) Reflection

Journal. Think about a moment in the day you were unhappy or uncomfortable, zoom in, and ask what you did but did not want to (or vice versa), and gave up your power. Your recollection on your thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations will reflect obstacles to your success and/or happiness, or how you are getting in your own way. (See attachment for additional journaling prompts). We do not learn from experiences; we learn from reflecting on experiences. To get different results, we need different behaviors, and to sustain behaviors we need to be mindful of the attitude, belief, or personal story that’s shaping that routine (unhelpful) behavior.

2) Meditation

Five to ten minutes a day. Rather than try and solve problems externally, e.g. with money, finding a new job or entering into a new relationship, get in touch with your inner life. Observe your thoughts and feelings non-judgmentally to create self-awareness so that you can respond, and not react, to situations.

To be authentic: Know yourself. Own yourself. Be yourself. 

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