The Hidden Structures that Stifle You

unproductive - The Hidden Structures that Stifle You

Ever wonder what the essence of being you is while you’re at work? Ever wonder why you feel constrained at work as if the real you’s buried a bit? Chances are you are not alone.

The camouflaging of self appears to be part of the reason why today’s executives and office workers feel like they’re gasping for air in the organizational chamber.

So how and why do we put on the veil that hides the true self at work? After all, we are not living in the 1960s, Mad Men-era. Our roles today are dynamic, not static. Work-role rigidity should be giving way to creativity and critical thinking by now, right?

I contend that we stumble along the learning journey of building organizations. As we began crossing work thresholds, we transformed a bit—moving from natural states of being to unnatural ones.

It’s when we look back that we see how many lessons we’ve learned about ourselves along the way.

This past week, I attended a training session with clients and, during a break, we talked about organizational culture. How is it that some company cultures, like, encourage the emergence of self at work while others water it down?

During the conversation, we concluded that many workplace leaders are too task-oriented in reporting and limit themselves to results. Workplaces, we agreed, fail to encourage sharing without prejudice and they tend to become more compliant and less generative as companies grow.

As far as leaders and workers go, we agreed that today’s leaders adoped the attitudes of their superiors, who manage numbers not people. Consequently, the love for work has been lost in many workplaces and replaced with money matters. Giving in to “the way it is here” is a mantra that generally rules workplaces—workplaces where collaborative thinking and leading is as uncommon as dialogue.

We did a great job identifying the deadly sins of most organizations in a setting where, ironically, people felt like they were autonomous and self-determined. Such “feelings of freedom” generated the content of this post—imagine that? The contributors were truthful, straight-forward, and clear thinkers. There was no rubric or metric or management oversight even. They also accomplished a non-assigned task in about 12 minutes.

As an organizational systems professional with a care for language and creating collaborative workplaces, I was delighted in our discoveries. In a moment of non-structure, coherent thinking about patterns emerged. 

Martin Luther King Jr. once said that “the hope of a secure and livable world lives with disciplined non-conformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood.” Sometimes the best way to undo a structure is to disrupt it by adopting a non-conformist’s mindset. King was no doubt speaking about the world at large, but doesn’t this statement apply to us at work as well? 

Why not use some unclaimed time to show your gifts at work or even encourage another’s gifts to emerge—maybe even through unplanned dialogue? 

To be human is not to be caged, smothered, or held back. On the contrary, to be human is to belong. In fact, Abraham Maslow speaks to this love, affection and being part of a group as a requisite pit stop en route to self-actualization. “It feels good” means “to belong.” This feeling contributes to the positivity and flow of work chats.

I believe your true self can’t “belong” at all when it remains cloaked. Validation of our true selves brews trust in others and garners authentic, spontaneous exchanges leading to workplace cultures that are welcoming—now that’s a structure or cycle worth sustaining at work, isn’t it?

Identifying your own hidden structures may rest in the ability to answer the question: “Where do you feel yourself come alive in the non-structure of your work day?” Chances are quite good that you may be showing your true gifts to the organization and to others during these moments of autonomy.

Don’t be afraid to look closely next time you have a moment—you may catch yourself having a Maslow moment of true belonging. It’s in these moments that we need to wake up, take note, and take action. By doing so, we’ll begin to have the courage to stay ourselves at work.

When we are authentic at work, not only do we gain comfort and contribute to an authentic culture of workplace warmth, but we also create a sense of connectedness that may deliver the happiness that’s presently absent in many workplaces—an absence that causes many people to hop from organization to organization in search of happiness.

Read other posts by Dennis Rebelo

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