I went to a punk show recently. It was to watch a band I was into, circa 1995, who at the time could inspire wild abandon, pandemonium and pure release in their live audience. Front-of-stage, frantic mosh pits — where you might fear for your life, but were also glad to be alive.
Anyone that has been front-of-stage of late will know these free-for-alls, once a place of ultimate freedom, are now merely a figment of our ageing imagination. Now militantly patrolled to prevent any hint of debauchery or excess, they’ve certainly lost their manic edge.
As a business psychologist, I work across diverse workplaces that all seem to be tormented with the same restraint. Creativity is often constrained, humour is mistaken for insensitivity.
The culture is still one that desperately wants to preserve categories and therefore anyone who is slightly unruly, left of centre or outspoken is at risk of being misunderstood or stymied in their efforts to get ahead.
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Given that feeling misunderstood, isolated or disconnected at work is often correlated with mental health challenges, there is a lot of merit in preserving the punk rocker self — that part of us that is often repressed in the corporate environment.
So, here are my tips for the leaders longing to promote workplace freedom in an age of restraint.
1. Embrace the ‘shadow self’
We have come to repress our ‘shadow selves’. There is another side of us all, the quirky collection of traits that are not as easily tolerated in a workplace, that we choose to keep hidden in the dark. Think recklessness, restlessness and runaway imaginations, for instance.
These idiosyncrasies not only make us memorable — but also provide the complexity to our character, the authenticity to our relationships, the alter ego that is unrestrained and unedited in the mosh pit.
2. Dare to be vulnerable
We are constantly told to be vulnerable, particularly as leaders, however, we still exist largely in workplaces where people have difficulty sharing their feelings openly and being their most authentic selves. We are encouraged to unleash our radical side through youthful rebellion, otherwise known as ‘challenging the status quo’, however, this rarely goes down without a fight.
Research from highly acclaimed scholar and author Brene Brown demonstrates that appropriate vulnerability, such as being open and guarded in the right way, can bless both the people a leader works with and the organisation as a whole.
Great leaders recognise that strong relationships are built on openness, personal storytelling and self-disclosure. They recognise and share that they don’t have all the answers, and a result they hire people that are better than them — smarter, faster, with more potential — thus creating real transformation.
3. Endorse the originality in your people
As a people manager, it is critical that you nurture all talent — the good, the wild and the quirky.
This means celebrating the unique contribution that each individual provides, their unique way of looking at the world and approach to their work. It also means being mindful of our human tendency to gravitate towards those most similar to us, thus creating a less equitable working environment.
Many studies also find that for environments involving complex decisions and creativity, more diverse teams outperform less diverse ones.
Too much similarity can lead to teams that are overconfident, ignore vital information and make poor, even unethical decisions.
So go ahead — embrace your punk rocker self!