I have a problem with the term ‘professionalism’.
Not because being professional in the workplace is a bad thing; far from it. Because it implies that everyone has to pretend that they’re okay 100% of the time.
Humans don't work that way.
People have their ups and downs, their good days and bad. When expected to be ‘professional’, people are forced to be ‘pleasantly fake’, to pretend that everything is hunky dory all the time no matter what.
Maintaining this illusion doesn’t help anyone. It promotes lying and burnout. It hurts your organisation and costs you money in the long run.
When expected to be ‘professional’, people are forced to be ‘pleasantly fake’.
Pretending everything is always fine increases stress. When you believe ‘I can’t let anyone know I’m having a rough time or it’ll cause even more problems!’ you’re not addressing the root cause of the issue. People don’t operate at their happiest, most productive level in this state.
A key element of mental fitness is being okay with not being okay all the time. Allow for weaknesses and know when you need to ask for help.
I’ve encountered many top performers in more than 20 years of management. They’re diverse individuals who do very different jobs, have very different personalities, and sport very different working styles.
Yet they’re all the same on one thing. They are all mentally fit and live by the wisdom of the adage:
“You don’t inspire others by being perfect. You inspire them by how you deal with your imperfections.”
As managers, we need to understand the personalities and backgrounds of our employees to allow them to achieve their mental peak.
Contrary to conventional practice, we must not treat them like human cattle (or ‘human capital’ in corporate speak) if we are to truly bring out their best.
Modern society spent most of the last century promoting left-brain analytical thinking.
We’ve focused on figures, KPIs, productivity, targets, business plans, objectives and bottom lines at the expense of empathy, understanding and emotional intelligence.
The business world is particularly guilty of this.
I’m not suggesting that you ditch your quarterly financial review in favour of a touchy-feely love fest. I’m suggesting that to be an effective, mentally fit leader, you need to use both cold, hard left-brain logic and creative, empathetic right-brain understanding.
Don't be a half-baked leader using half a brain, okay?
Help your managers build mental fitness through whole-brain thinking. They’ll develop the knowledge and assertiveness to understand your business plan and its priorities, plus know how to leverage the strengths of the individuals in their team to accomplish great things. Only then will your business function at its best.
Doing away with artificial ‘professionalism’ and pleasant fakeness doesn’t mean that everyone should scream and shout and let it all out every time something goes wrong.
A mentally fit workplace is one which models and encourages people to deal with setbacks positively. Such a workplace may be fast-paced and demanding, but it's an emotionally pleasant environment to work in, not toxic.
So do away with the fantasy that everyone is going to be on the top of their game all of the time.
If people spend less of their time and energy hiding the fact that they’re not perfect, they can devote more effort to coming up with constructive solutions to their problems and moving past them.
Nobody is okay all of the time. It’s a simple fact of life. If you want your business and employees to be as mentally fit, happy and productive as they can possibly be, then you can’t afford to keep pretending anymore.
Doing so will end up costing you far more than you realise - in the form of reduced productivity, increased stress leave, high staff turnover, and missed opportunities.
Do you pretend you're okay at work when you're not?