From Tie to Tie-dye: How Much Of You To Bring To The Workplace As A Leader?
For many years during the earlier part of my career, I used to wear a tie every day I went to work. I’d been wearing a tie since I was eight years old, so this was hardly an onus.
At my first job at an investment bank in New York, it was de rigueur to wear suit and tie. Trying to carve out a little individuality, I enjoyed sporting ties that showed a little character. Granted, it was a rather tight zone of liberty.
Meanwhile, I have a searing recollection of the many times when I would rush home to change into my gear for attending a rock’n’roll concert, since I really enjoyed attending these live experiences. This entailed the proverbial letting down of my hair. As I shook off my investment banker look, I would don one or other tie-dye from a more fanciful collection than the chic ties I wore at work.
For those early years, I just accepted that was the way it had to be. I was young and had to earn my place at the bank.
But, I also realized I was living two lives.
When I left the bank to spend two years as an entrepreneur, I had far more autonomy; but in retrospect, in that I hadn’t done much self-assessment, I still played a part at work as the earnest professional.
When the start-up failed, I returned to corporate employment and the sentiment of living two separate lives continued on as I joined L’Oréal in France, where it was back to wearing suits and ties.
In writing this, I am not blaming my employer. The real problem was that I hadn’t done the deeper work to figure out who I was and what I truly stood for.
After all, how can you be ‘authentic’ at work if you are not fully aware of who you are in the first place?
Moreover, bringing my Sixties-era rock’n’roll musical taste into work didn’t seem to be compatible with making my work outputs any better.
My A-Ha Moment
The A-ha! moment came when I was transferred to the US subsidiary and was given a leadership position in one of L’Oréal’s brands, Redken 5th Avenue NYC.
A few things happened to allow me to understand what it means to bring your fuller self to work.
First, I discovered a whole other form of brand, one that had values that were clearly demarcated and were incarnated by the team. Redken, which was founded in 1960, had been purchased by L’Oréal only a handful of years before I joined it.
Although the Redken headquarters had been moved into the L’Oréal office space in New York, it maintained a fierce independence, including creating an educational facility that overlooked 5th Avenue and embodied the core spirit of the brand.
As the then CEO of L’Oréal USA said, “Redken is not in a building, Redken is in the hearts of these people, so you can take a Redken person and put them anywhere and you’ll have Redken.”
Second, within the spirit of Redken was an acceptance of individuality.
As Ann Mincey, VP of Global Communications (and the unofficial Director of Love as I liked to call her), explained, “We accepted people exactly where they are and that feeling of belonging made them want to believe in … [our philosophy of] beauty with an attitude and science with a sizzle.”
Redken Education understood that transmission happens through engagement and entertainment, which required each educator to bring his/her full personality to the classroom.
The Wisdom of My Grandfather
Third, not least importantly, there was the work that I undertook on myself. Specifically, I had started on an unexpectedly long journey back in 1991 when I began to research more about my grandfather, the man I’d been named after and who had been killed in World War II.
He had been a US naval officer and had captained the USS Napa in the Philippines where he won the Navy Cross before being captured. He endured three years as a prisoner of war before being killed.
This work on my grandfather led me to write a book and, ultimately, produce a documentary film (“The Last Ring Home”). However, it was through the work that I had been doing on his life, interviewing 130 veterans who had known him, fought with him and had served as prisoners with him, that helped me navigate the events of September 11, 2001.
On the morning that Pearl Harbor was bombed and 2,403 people were killed, my grandfather wrote by hand in the ship’s log book while stationed in Manila Bay: “0410. Received word that hostilities with the Japanese Empire had started.”
I drew on that very moment, imagining the emotions he must have had, when I watched out of my office window the events unfurl at the southern tip of Manhattan. Not only was the US under attack, but I felt that Redken, 5th Avenue NYC, was also deeply involved.
With 2,606 casualties in New York (2,977 in total) in 9/11, the parallels seemed patently obvious. I came to feel even more deeply connected to my grandfather and in the process, came to understand and accept more about myself. It’s from this place of stronger self-understanding that I was better able to appreciate how much of myself to bring to work.
A Focus On What Matters
With the events of 9/11, in ways that have been echoed through the Covid-19 pandemic, all of a sudden, there was a greater attention to what mattered. It was a simple reflection and need to put things into perspective.
So many of the petty things that would upset me were no longer an issue.
Selling shampoos and making the monthly numbers represented less aspiring objectives.
Despite the fatigue and challenging economic environment, I was prompted to lean into Redken’s mission and company’s raison d’être: Learn Better, Earn Better, Live Better.
Beyond making money, it was about helping our teams, partners and clients to live a better life.
In the face of the disturbing events, how could anything else be more motivating?
This purpose kept all of us focused and energized, in spite of the external events.
A Focus On The Future
I like to connect dots and see patterns.
With my eyes and heart opened, I recognized that my two lives were finally merging.
For the first time in my professional career, I felt that I belonged, that I was part of a community. And that was also what I felt – in equal doses – when I donned my tie-dye t-shirt to attend any one of many Grateful Dead shows.
As Ann Mincey wrote in her book, Get Glowing, it’s about “[l]iving in alignment with your value system; being forgiving and grateful for the unlimited love that energizes you to serve others.”
Redken and the Grateful Dead had so many similarities in spirit and values, at least in the way that I interpreted them. And that’s the key point, I belonged to a tribe and yet felt like an individual.
We all live within paradoxes and boundaries.
I like to look at our personalities as having three parts to them:
- The professional,
- The personal
- And the private
Yes, there are parts to us that are intimate and private, and they should be kept that way. The contrary would be as foolish as believing 100% transparency is desirable.
Further, I like to say that there is beauty in mystery.
But, it’s not because you have a secret garden that you can’t bring more of your personal–personality–to work.
When you have a greater overlap of your personal and professional selves at work, you can spend your energies in the right place, being an individual at the service of a wholesome purpose and you don’t have to sink effort into separating the two selves.
You develop a true integrity.
It’s not a straight line; nor is it necessarily easy. But when you do the work on yourself, it’s easier to connect the dots and find the personal pattern that will allow you to feel energized and more consistently fulfilled.
Minter Dial is an international professional speaker, elevator and a multiple award-winning author, specialised in leadership, branding and transformation. An agent of change, he’s a three-time entrepreneur who has exercised twelve different métiers and moved country fifteen times. He’s author of The Last Ring Home (a WWII documentary film and book) as well as three business books, Futureproof (2017), Heartificial Empathy (2019) and his latest, You Lead, How Being Yourself Makes You A Better Leader (Kogan Page) released in January 2021. He is passionate about the Grateful Dead, Padel Tennis, languages and generating meaningful conversations. You can read more from Minter at https://minterdial.com/
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