You aren’t a leader until people know who you are and why they should follow you.

People comply with the title. They follow the person.

While many individuals deliberately keep their work personas and their personal personas separate, I checked, and each of us is one person. Sure, there are boundaries, and you need to respect theirs and maintain some of yours without question. Yet, the faster you grow comfortable letting them see you as that whole person, the faster they’ll trust you.

Trust sets the stage for remarkable possibilities.

A Robot in Boss Clothing

Earlier in my career, I was a performance-focused machine, and our results as a team were great. My review from a wise mentor was mediocre. “Art is a force for productivity; however, he’s leaving leadership on the table with his robotic-like approach to his team members and their tasks.

What did that mean? What is “leaving leadership on the table” and what do I do about it?

While the feedback wasn’t specific, it was impactful. I spent a great deal of time figuring out what it meant and what I needed to do differently. Eventually, I realized part of the answer was to trust them to see me as a person, not just a performance-driven machine. I suspected if I dropped the acting, they might as well. 

I was right.

Two reviews later, the same mentor offered, “Congratulations for showing your team you’re not a robot. They see you’re a human who cares about them and results, and now they’re moving mountains because of you, not despite you.

Everyone should have a mentor that leaves them thinking for a lifetime!

Bring Your Whole Person to Work

I’ve learned over time and prompted by that mentor that you aren’t a leader until people see the whole self. You’re a father, mother, significant other, child, dreamer, learner, and a feeling person. Oh, and yes, you’re someone who is in a role that says, “boss.”

It turns out the “boss” portion is a label given by a title and the least important part of you when it comes to building trust with your colleagues.

People comply with the title. They follow the person.

Find Opportunities to Share

A rising star involved in a next-level situation is striving to gain traction with her team. She’s doing everything right, yet the response has been muted. In an informal moment at the end of a coaching conversation, I watched this individual light up as she described her remarkable out-of-work activities and accomplishments. The transformation at the moment was palpable as she talked about her challenges, struggles, successes, and desires to keep learning.

Aside from the “wow” factor, this same narrative with her team members will impact some of them in powerful ways. (Note: some people don’t care.) They’ll see this stranger who’s their boss as human, a striver, someone who gets knocked down and gets back up. And, they’ll trust her just a bit more because she trusted them enough to share this glimpse into the person behind the label of the boss.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

For some, keeping separation between their work-self and personal-self is a goal. I respect the boundary, but I don’t see the payoff of pursuing that path. It takes courage to give your colleagues glimpses of you beyond the role. It feels risky, yet if you find the courage, work becomes less about role-playing as individuals and more about engaging as humans. When this happens, groups become teams, and a new level of performance emerges. Remember, people comply with the title. They follow the person.

Art's Signature