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A friend of mine was going through a painful separation from his wife which shook his confidence and self-worth to the core. When this began showing up in various ways at work, his boss took notice and pulled him aside essentially conveying the message that if he valued his job, he should do his best to leave his personal issues at the door. My friend responded the way that most people would, and in fact, what many have been doing for years. He resolved to wear a mask at work and to reduce his level of trust both for his boss and his organization. 


The boss’s comments might seem especially heartless under the circumstances, but they echo the prevailing sentiments of today’s work culture so attached to oversimplified segregation between our personal and professional lives. Those that excel in this kind of double life are perhaps better suited for a psychiatric evaluation than a promotion; but for the rest of us, the issue is more clouded. We cannot help but bring our personal baggage with us to work. And so, people that are arrogant will tend to offend and demoralize their teammates. Passive people-pleasers will shy away from critical but sticky issues. Procrastinators can be counted on to add significant stress to projects and control freaks make wonderful micro-managers. Issues of personal character and emotional health are every bit as integral to job performance as technical skills, perhaps more so, yet they remain conspicuously absent from most professional development programs or are often reserved only for “rescue” interventions when a mess has already been made. Thus, in our attempts to keep people’s inner demons out of the workplace, we chase away their better angels and incentivize them to spend much of their energies hiding their weaknesses, struggles and faults. 


Yet there are some organizations breaking with convention by inviting their employees to bring their whole selves, the good, the bad, and the ugly, to work. These organizations, several of which are profiled in the book An Everyone Culture by leading organizational psychologists Bob Kegan and Lisa Lahey, expect their employees to be open and willing to work on themselves through company-sponsored peer groups and one-on-one coaching programs in which everyone participates, including top brass. While this might seem radical and perhaps extravagant (some of the practices are quite radical but far more cost-effective than many conventional development programs), the theory is straightforward, predicting that an organization where everyone is openly engaged in a process of personal growth will perform far ahead of the curve. The book makes a compelling case for the effectiveness of this model based on the success of these industry-leading organizations backed also by a number of empirical studies.

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