Researcher, author and speaker Brené Brown once said, “Daring leaders work to make sure people can be themselves and feel a sense of belonging.” When employees have the freedom to let their personalities shine and foster a connection to the company and their peers, what often follows is a strong sense of team loyalty and passion for their work.
But building a company culture that ensures employees feel comfortable enough to be themselves can take many forms, meaning there’s no one way for leaders to approach this goal. To help you find your best path, nine members of Young Entrepreneur Council each discuss one specific thing leaders can do to ensure their employees feel like they can be themselves at work and why this is so important.
Young Entrepreneur Council members share their insights on helping employees feel comfortable being themselves.
Photos courtesy of the individual members.
1. Focus On Forgiveness
Letting go of an unforgiving attitude is something leaders should try. It’s crucial for people to make mistakes in order to learn new things. Nothing teaches a person better than past experiences. When people know that you view mistakes differently and see them as learning opportunities, they will open up and be themselves around you. Why? Because they don’t have to lie or hide things anymore. They will come to you when they’ve made a mistake, asking for your guidance to make amends. This breeds a positive and efficient work environment. – Stephanie Wells, Formidable Forms
2. Build An Inclusive Company Culture
The first step leaders can take to ensure their employees feel like they can be themselves is to create an inclusive environment. This starts with how the leader interacts with their team, with a strong focus on being respectful of everyone’s backgrounds and points of view. It’s best to avoid making assumptions about what people want or need while being open to feedback about your actions as a leader. Creating an inclusive environment demands having policies and practices in place that support and respect diversity. This includes elements such as flexible work arrangements, equal pay for equal work and anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies. When you have these things in place, a clear message is sent to the team that they are valued for who they truly are. – Richard Fong, Disability Help
3. Host A Weekly ‘Show And Tell’
Each week, feature one employee who will share something interesting or cool with the rest of the staff. Encourage participants to share hobbies, pictures from cool trips they’ve been on, their passions or anything they enjoy or that makes them unique. I’ve done this at my company as a way to celebrate a sense of belonging and celebrate each person’s unique interests or talents. One person shared that they collect postcards and then passed them around to the group. Others shared unique talents like cooking or storytelling, while other staff connected with the group via musical performances and beer tastings! Just encourage and celebrate each and everyone’s unique interests and abilities. – Kristopher Brian Jones, LSEO.com
4. Ask Questions And Listen
Leaders who are authentically themselves and extremely humble typically inspire others to let their personalities shine through and feel accepted. They ask questions about their employees’ lives and genuinely listen to their answers. This way, they can pick up on what each person is interested in, what their communication style is like and how to encourage them to be themselves. If you care about your people and learn about what they like, it’s a lot easier to foster an environment where they can be themselves authentically without fear of judgment. – Alex Brown, The Beard Club
5. Offer Constructive Feedback, Not Criticism
People might not feel safe enough to be themselves at work when they are afraid they will be criticized. Cultivate the culture of giving constructive feedback, which is not the same as criticism. You want your feedback to be heard, so what you say is important, but how you say it is even more important. A simple “This is not it,” “Fix it,” or “I don’t like it,” is not feedback. Point out the good things and offer suggestions and recommendations for how to make it better. This should come from the top, so set the right example as a leader. – Solomon Thimothy, OneIMS
6. Show Your Humanity
Be vulnerable. I try to overshare the good, the bad and the funny with my team, the company as a whole and even with customers during webinars. The more that people can see you as human, the more they can be human with you. I frequently share “mom fails” and funny client stories that have come across my desk so they know it’s okay to laugh, as well as times when I have made a mistake or failed. My employees see my genuine reactions, and since we are remote and on camera, those can be inaudible as well. Honesty and transparency go a long way to helping others be vulnerable as well. – Marjorie Adams, Fourlane
7. Involve Them In Determining Your Mission And Values
Ask your team what they think your mission, vision and values should be. We just went through this process with the entire team, and the comments were tremendous. They really gave me a sense of why the staff chose to join this team. I think it helped show the team how critically valuable their input and feedback is to the organization. It created energy and excitement all around, which is key to helping people be themselves at work. – JT Allen, myFootpath LLC
8. Prioritize Their Work-Life Balance
A very good way of making your employees feel comfortable at work is to prioritize their work-life balance. Let your employees go home in time after work to spend time with their loved ones and encourage them to take PTO at least once in two months. This will not only help them have a better work-life balance, but it will also allow them to revitalize themselves for a more productive start when they join work. – Josh Kohlbach, Wholesale Suite
9. Give Them A Place To Share
We have a family chat on Slack where team members are free to be themselves while they are at work. Our chat is full of fun conversations about TV shows, pets, hobbies and much more. I believe that these interactions bring all of us closer together because we can openly talk about the things that make us happy, even if the topics are not directly tied to our work. – Chris Christoff, MonsterInsights