After reading HBR’s Making Business Personal I am more inspired than ever to push the boundaries to encourage businesses to become more human. Deliberately creating a culture that turns all of our personal struggles into an invaluable competitive advantage. The authors call this type of company a “deliberately developmental organization” (DDO). Where companies operate on the foundational assumptions that our personal growth and the company’s bottom-line are interdependent. They are advocating that companies create structures to support their associates in transcending their blind spots, limitations and fears.
Leaders that have the courage to recognize that human energy is the single most valuable resource of any business will discover a goldmine hiding in the inadequacies of themselves and their employees. This requires a radical change in mindset pushing us further towards becoming one. As I have begun to share my intent to expose my own vulnerabilities through extreme transparency I have had numerous people advise me to reconsider in a genuine concern that my own reputation may suffer. But this is a risk I am ready to take, more so it feels like a risk I have to take. After all, how can I authentically ask others to embrace this mindset if I don’t walk the talk.
We can’t truly expect our business community to become more human if we don’t start to get more comfortable with the uncomfortable realities of what it means to be human. I am hoping that by sharing my own stories you will be inspired to risk discussing the seemingly undiscussable.
When we hear stories of painful life changing moments that happen to other people, typically we are most struck by the event itself. Our empathy is focused on the unimaginable pain that we associate with tragic events. Yet I have come to believe that the painful event itself is often quite forgettable. It is how we, and those close to us, respond to the event that really sticks with us. It’s our thoughts and beliefs that we experience as a result of the event that haunt us and ultimately begin to shape our future experiences. Worse we judge our responses and the responses of those closest to us through a rational lens without consideration of the highly irrational thoughts and beliefs that shape how we and others respond to painful events.
Throughout my childhood and into my early teens my late grandfather molested me. I have to assume simply hearing the dirtiness of the word “molest” stirs emotions in anyone reading this. You may even want to stop reading but I hope you don’t, there is a big treasure in my story. Most people would assume that the act of being molested was the pain that haunted me throughout my teens and early adulthood. In fact, for many years I believed that was the source of the pain that was holding me hostage. But it wasn’t. Even as a young child I did not feel the tremendous anger that I had every reason to feel towards my grandfather. Somehow I knew in my heart that he must have been very troubled to hurt me because I knew how much he loved me. What he did was reprehensible, yet it was not the real source of the heaviness I was carrying in my heart. For years to come I found myself experiencing reoccurring forms of abuse from different people and each time it happened it validated the false beliefs and irrational thoughts I was forming about myself. My logic was simple and all too common, if it keeps happening to me over and over again I must be doing something to cause this abuse, or so I believed. I have since come to understand that it was my false beliefs and irrational thoughts that were manifesting the pattern in my life experiences. It was not until I dug really deep into myself that I discovered the source of my beliefs and thoughts had nothing to do with the tragic events that happened and had everything to do with how I and those I am closest to responded to those events. Adding to the confusion, the people I was closest to really did have my best interest at heart, they simply weren’t emotionally equipped to deal with my pain or their own.
Becoming aware of this profoundly changed how I view pain and how I respond to it. There is no prescriptive right response to any tragic event, but a heightened self awareness coupled with unconditional empathy are powerful. This is not about the tragedy of my story, this is about how I was able to grow and become empowered by what happened to me. Given the chance I would not change a thing in my life.
Why am I discussing this incredibly uncomfortable topic on my business blog? Because we are all human first and our businesses are full of humans and run by humans. And I have come to believe that 100% of us are dealing with something we have a social burden to hide. Something that has invaluable hidden insights that can empower us in a very profound way. What impact does that have on businesses? Is this simply a personal issue? I’m afraid not. All that energy people are investing into hiding and perhaps hurting has an enormous impact on the bottom-line of any company. The idea that people compartmentalize their stuff and show up to work without their stuff is simply bullshit.
So what can we do about this? I’m certainly not suggesting that work become therapy or that we excuse lack of productivity because of our wounds. The reason I am exposing my own vulnerability like this is to inspire a bold new approach to motivate self awareness, one that is inclusive of people, businesses and communities alike. Simply put painful stuff is a mirage, viewed one way it can break us, viewed another it can truly make us. It may sound cliché to view your pain as an opportunity but it truly is the case. Which also means that this enormous burden I have highlighted that every business is carrying is really an enormous opportunity of untapped potential. Again, this is not about businesses taking on therapy, this is about enabling self awareness in our biggest asset, humans.
The human factor also plays itself out in work related life changing events. For example, turnarounds, mergers, and acquisitions, these can be very painful events for your associates but I promise you, it is not the event itself that impacts them, it is how they and their leaders respond to the events that shape their thoughts and beliefs.
So how do we turn pain into potential? That is the topic fro my next post.