Free to Be My Best Me

July 17, 2014
  • Bob Chapman
  • Bob Chapman
    CEO & Chairman of Barry-Wehmiller
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“When I’m at work, I don’t have to wear a mask. I can be my true self.”

That’s what Matt Nichols, an engineering design team leader at our BW Papersystems division in Phillips, Wisconsin, shared with a visitor who wanted to know more about Barry-Wehmiller’s people-centric culture.

“At work, I don’t need to put on an act,” he said. “Because of our culture, we recognize, embrace and celebrate that we have different personalities and strengths. And we can feel safe letting others see that we don’t know everything and aren’t the best at everything. This is incredibly freeing!”

Unfortunately putting on a proverbial mask is very common in organizations.

In a recent Harvard Business Review article “Making Business Personal” (April 2014), Harvard professor Robert Kegan and colleagues called it the single biggest cause of wasted resources in nearly every company today. Their research showed that most people at work “divert considerable energy every day to a second job that no one has hired them to do: preserving their reputations, putting their best selves forward, and hiding their inadequacies from others and themselves.”

At Barry-Wehmiller, we invest considerable energy into creating an environment where our team members feel safe exposing their true selves—both their capabilities and their vulnerabilities. Our culture is based upon the belief that we can leverage the collective strengths of our team members in pursuit of our shared vision, with the ultimate end result being personal fulfillment for each of them. Through our Truly Human Leadership culture and the classes we offer through Barry-Wehmiller University, we help them become more aware of their talents so they can develop them more fully and support them in overcoming their limitations.

“We all have strengths, whether in our personality or in our skill sets, that we can bring to bear for any situation,” Matt explained. “It’s nice to be able to leverage my strongest skills for the benefit of the team, knowing that my team members with other skills are doing the same.” Matt says his engineering team at work is aware of his limitations in the area of technical solutions and is comfortable with his leaders and fellow team members knowing such. “In many companies, an engineer would be afraid to admit a weakness like that. But I know I am in a safe place where I am valued and accepted for my gifts and contributions. And if I can’t do something, it’s okay to say that and ask for help.”

Matt recalls jobs with other companies that left him feeling de-energized. “I constantly felt like I needed to be more engaging, more assertive, more of something that I wasn’t. I never realized how much effort it took to wear the mask. I invested a lot of emotional energy into areas that had little return for me or the organization.”

In his additional role as a Barry-Wehmiller University professor, Matt has the opportunity to teach aspiring leaders how to help others become more aware of their special gifts and how to develop them.

“It’s rewarding to help people understand their own strengths and how they help pull the team in the right direction,” Matt shared. “What’s more, we can recognize strengths in others that we are lacking and appreciate what they mean to achieving the team’s objectives.” When that happens, a mask is no longer required because everyone on the team can feel safe being their authentic selves.

“It feels good to be the same person at work that I am at home,” Matt offered.

As leaders in businesses and organizations, we have a responsibility to help those we have the privilege to lead be who they were meant to be. That begins with letting them be themselves, by creating environments where they can discover their gifts and talents and feel safe revealing their inadequacies.

Do the people you lead feel the need to wear masks?

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