Integrating Your Whole Self for Effective Design & Leadership: A Guide
In a recent post on LinkedIn, I explored separating ourselves from our work. The intention of this article is to go a little deeper on this topic. Through my study of human behaviour, design and leadership, I have arrived at these three points:
- We cannot truly separate ourselves from anything we do.
- Impactful design and leadership requires all of you.
- Separation and distance are not the same thing.
My clients are diverse and come from all over the globe. I have worked with executives who are known as the 'Sliver Back' of the leadership team, and I have worked with designers who are introverted, solo operators. These three points feel salient to me, so let's explore them together.
1. We cannot truly separate ourselves from anything we do.
There is a myth that states we can distance our personhood from what we do—that we somehow decouple ourselves and show up as a persona when we get to work. While I know the persona part is sometimes 100% necessary, I cannot accept that 'you' are not also there.
I think we need to acknowledge, that although we may try to create a separation between ourselves and our work, it is a mythical beast. If we don't acknowledge that this is indeed the case, then that's when we are at the most risk of taking things personally. Something will eventually get through that armour and hurt you at a time you don’t expect.
Accepting you cannot separate yourself from your work gives you some choice as to how you do show up in your work. It enables you to focus on the ‘character development’ that is required for you to feel safe in any environment.
Here are some tips to help you feel secure within yourself at work:
TIP 1: Understand that each person in the room has their own inner battles going on. What comes out directed at you may have nothing to do with you, even if it does sound personal.
TIP 2: Holding compassion for everyone in the room, even those who make your life difficult, keeps you away from a reactionary stance.
TIP 3: Do your best work as often as possible, back yourself in and be honest when you’ve missed something or slipped up. This way it is out in the open on your terms, and you don’t need to fear someone bringing it up.
2. Impactful design and leadership requires all of you.
We have come to value our executive function (the thinking we know we are doing) above all other forms of intelligence—especially in our professional lives. To design products, services and strategies with deep insight, this form of intelligence is not enough. This kind of design and leadership is not just an intellectual pursuit, it requires more subtlety and deeper understanding.
This subtlety and understanding is available to us when we learn to bring more than just our thinking brains to work. Our body holds an incredible amount wisdom and is sensing, responding and guiding us all the time. We can sense things that aren't always made explicit. When I use the term, “requires all of you”, this is what I'm referring to.
We need our emotions, and our sensation, and our history and our aspirations, we need all of it to create work that has resonance, and impact and longevity. Creating artificial separation between your head and your heart, or the rest of your body for that matter, cuts off access to an incredible amount of information that you can help inform your work. The trick is to learn how to listen to it and trust its guidance.
Here are a few ways you can start:
STEP 1: Take notice of how your body feels when you walk into a room. What happens to your heart? What happens to your stomach? Start paying attention to these sensations.
STEP 2: Start experimenting by taking action on what you are sensing at the moment. You can start just by sharing what’s happening within you. For example, if you’re being directed by your superiors to take your work in a certain direction and your body starts getting tense and constricted, try saying “something about this doesn’t feel right to me. I’ll need to see if I can make sense of why.”
3. Separation and distance are not the same thing.
It is important to highlight that complete identification with your work can also be unhealthy. In that your work forms a part of your identity, as opposed to something you bring yourself to. The difference is an important one. Understanding this difference provides a healthy way to deal with the inevitable ups and downs of one's work life, while not losing a sense of who you are throughout the journey.
Here's how you can spot the difference.
Separation is about cutting off the relationship between you and your work. It is an internal decoupling.
Distance is about creating the ability to observe your work from a place of wholeness. It is an external decoupling.
Separation can be damaging, whereas distance can be empowering.
Through creating distance, we can be present and still able to differentiate between our work and ourselves. This distance also provides us with choices we wouldn't otherwise have. When we identify with what we do, we can become too close to see the situation objectively.
The choices that become available at a distance are to become curious about what's playing out, to be able to observe our own role in what's happening, to allow in compassion and understanding for the person who is 'against' the work and to not be pulled into a defensive, reactive mode of operation.
Doing the work on your ‘character’ helps to make it safe to bring yourself closer to your work. This is when we can truly enjoy the ease that comes with authenticity. When you no longer have to work hard to be someone, or something you're not, and allow your personhood to shine through your work.
Who is Melis Senova?
I am a coach and advisor to design leaders, C-level executives and leaders in government. My work in This Human is dedicated to the next generation of designers and leaders.
When you’re ready, here’s how I can help you:
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