|I think the concept of having separate personas for work and for life is BS. There, I said it. It’s symptomatic of a psychologically unsafe workplace. If you feel you can’t be your authentic self at work, if you believe you have to step into a role, then something is fundamentally broken.
The core of my work is about helping people move away from managing like robots. Why then would I be an advocate for people stepping into a ‘work’ persona from 9-5 and a ‘life’ persona out of office hours?
One of the strategies I share in the Human Manager Academy comes directly from my two year experiment of treating my team like humans. In that experiment, I insisted on my team including a strictly non-work related goal in their yearly Objectives and Key Performance Criteria reports. Some people chose marathons or a long haul hike, others chose things like launching a side hustle or writing a book. They could choose anything, as long as it was meaningful to them as an individual and would be a factor in them bringing their best self to the task at hand. None of this work/life persona BS! I wanted to know my people, what inspired them and what drove them as humans, not their job title.
The problem I see with personas is they’re in danger of becoming caricatures. They’re often based on assumptions and stereotypes which makes them immediately inauthentic and off-putting. They get in the way of vulnerability, connection and belonging and they erode trust. They’re also limiting- while you’re ‘pretending’ to be someone you believe impresses the exec team, your real potential and ability to intentionally work to your strengths is impacted. Inevitably, whether you acknowledge this or not, your values are compromised. How can they not be? This might be ok for a while, but over time, value misalignment is damaging.
It’s the people who hold tight to a work persona that put up the most barriers at my sessions. They’re the ones with arms crossed, who shift in their seats when I ask the hard questions. It’s as though they’ve never shown true vulnerability in a work environment, never allowed themselves to appear as anything other than on top of everything and everyone. The act of being comfortably uncomfortable? It’s borderline excruciating for them.
So what’s the alternative? It’s remembering one simple fact- we’re all human! In my many years of doing this work, regardless of title, industry, years of experience managers are humans and pretty much have the same shit, different day. They’re (like all of us) trying to survive, thrive and navigate through life, and work through the bad news stories they tell about themselves and others.
If lockdown has done anything, it’s freed us to ditch our home and professional personas. Home has been literally work and vice versa. Seeing the CFO juggle a crying baby while anyalsing data reports couldn’t be more humanising. It’s emblematic of a level of self-disclosure that’s been avoided and frowned upon in the corporate world, but lockdown made it unavoidable and inevitable. Yet it offers a sense of connection and understanding of our commonalities and differences that we’ve never necessarily been exposed to before.
Now, the challenge is to not revert back!
September 1, 2022