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  • Melissa Sims

Whole Person Leadership

Updated: May 5, 2023

We recently touched on leadership philosophy and how your values integrate with your leadership style. You may have heard of the term “holistic leadership” and may understand the concept that being an effective, balanced, and happy leader requires ALL of you. But just as you need balance in your life, have you considered your team and their “wholeness?

Research shows that when we bring our whole selves to work, we’re more creative, satisfied, and perform better. Whole-person leadership not only focuses on the leader’s wholeness, but also the individual’s wholeness on a team. For too long, there was a very distinct line between personal life and work life, with leaders believing that anything outside of work was “left at the door.” Fast forward three years, after a global pandemic, war, and political strife, that line has become quite blurry. Why is that a good thing? Because now people are slowly becoming able to be their authentic selves at work.

Being online with one another over the past three years, being a witness to each person in their personal space, seeing their behavior in that space, and going through massive collective trauma together has humanized all of us. It has helped to build empathy and trust within teams. This can be seen as an opportunity to embrace the “new normal” and make your teams more cohesive, trustworthy, and effective, by seeing beyond the team member, and appreciating the entire person - the mind, body, and spirit.

You may be thinking “I don’t have time to worry about their personal lives” but you may be left behind if you don’t. Seeing the employee experience through their eyes as opposed to how you perceive it is a great starting point. Think about your own personal life, and how hard it is to not allow your outside emotions, experience, stressors, and even health to disrupt or creep into your work day. There is no difference here with the individuals on the team. We talk a lot about psychological safety and you need to be sure that you have made this available to your team before you can expect them to be their authentic selves. A space where they can feel comfortable sharing their fears, questions, and concerns without judgment.

Being a whole-person leader is about building trust and relationships, and respecting the individual and their experiences that they bring to the table. This includes the understanding that all individuals will bring their own unique lens, based on their background, their culture, and their life experience. If the trust built is solid, it will flow both ways. I think a lot of leaders fear that their ‘niceness’ will end up biting them in the long run, with employees that will take advantage of their flexibility. However, when built in a way that encourages open communication, trust, and loyalty, your team may have employees that end up behaving the opposite way - striving to do whatever they can to help the team as a whole.

According to a recent Gallup poll, 68% of workers in 2022 were either not engaged or were actively disengaged from their work, co-workers, and employer. Considering how much time the average person spends in the workplace or performing work tasks, there is a disconnect in thinking that work doesn’t spill into personal lives and vice versa. I believe the error lies in placing distinction between these two lives to begin with. A whole-human approach to management and employee development may work better when a more holistic, integrative strategy can help remove the traditional barriers between work and home.

In fact, the more whole you treat them, the more whole they feel at work. The more fulfilled people become, the more motivated, innovative, and productive they are. This entire concept can work both ways, for you as a leader - by strengthening relationships and enhancing team morale, and also by identifying those that may not be a good fit for the team overall because they are not in alignment.

So what does this look like in action? When seeing the whole person, it is important to recognize that their development is not just professional skills, but also soft skills. Whole person development is the ability for someone to know themselves, know how to improve themselves, know others, and know how to help others improve. What is the goal of a leader? To make other great leaders, right? Encouraging whole person development helps your team grow as not just people, but builds on their leadership skills. And while it is not your responsibility to teach life skills, it inevitably spills into the workplace.

Your teams are already participating in workshops that focus on whole-person development, from communications to emotional intelligence. You’re already applying this concept and have the opportunity to continue to build upon it.

There’s a saying in the corporate world: “employees are your greatest asset.” But employees want to feel like they’re more than just their job title or an expendable company asset. Taking an interest in employee development both at work and in their personal lives will make employees feel valued, leading to increased engagement and loyalty that will benefit everyone.

This approach, while non-traditional, focuses on the many aspects of the whole human and can benefit employees and employers alike. And since the entire work concept is shifting away from tradition, isn’t it time we look at the employee relationship non-traditionally? Why not enable your team to grow as whole people and unleash their full potential? It may just help your team, and the organization, thrive.


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