Why I Take My Work Personally And You Should Too
You have heard it all before, “It’s business, not personal” or “Don’t take that personally”. These statements have always ranked high in the business jargon pet peeve list for me. I invest in my work, and myself, so there is meaning for me.
A few years ago, I was relieved to read an article on this topic by Duncan Coombe in the Harvard Business Review. Coombe suggests taking your work personally makes you a better employee, because you are connected to your work, which thereby improves your organization. I felt validated.
I believe that I produce my best work and live my fullest life, because I care about what I’m doing. As a leader and employee, I take my work personally and here is why you should consider doing the same thing.
Caring About Work Makes You Vulnerable
Truly investing in your work makes you vulnerable, which can be uncomfortable. However, vulnerability belongs at work. It makes us more empathetic and relatable; it helps us think through problems more creatively; and the list goes on.
Being our truest selves is deeply personal. I often say: Let’s walk into the discomfort and get comfortable together. You have to be brave enough to approach your work authentically to reap the rewards.
I know this to be true for myself. After many years of being told not to take things personally, I started to put on a mask at work, so others wouldn’t see my personal side. It felt safer and easier to act as if “it’s all business” when that was what was expected. In reality, when I started taking things “personally” again, my spirits—and my work—improved dramatically.
It Will Make You a Better Leader
The personal aspect of work is important as a manager. I care deeply about the people on my team, and I need them to know it. When I give feedback or stretch team members, they trust I am invested in their work—and them.
Part of building this trust means establishing a rapport beyond basic greetings each day. It means supporting their lives outside of the office, and acknowledging how it relates to work, too.
As a leader, I want to be taken personally. I believe it helps my team to understand me, where I am coming from, and how to work most effectively with me. I want my team to support my goal of being my best self.
It Will Help You Better Respond to Feedback
Kim Scott, author of Radical Candor, developed a model of feedback where you care personally and challenge directly. Note the model first requires someone to “care personally” before giving feedback. It is because you care enough that you are willing to offer feedback in the first place.
Nobody believes it when they hear, “Feedback isn’t personal,” and, moreover, if you try to sidestep the human element, you could accidentally fall into the “obnoxious aggression” category Scott describes.
If you’re the one receiving the feedback, it can feel less vulnerable to dismiss it as business, but this misses an opportunity for learning. It’s more helpful to remind yourself: This feedback is a reflection of what this person is looking for from me, but it does not define me.
It Will Make Your Organization Stronger
To create truly diverse, and more importantly, inclusive, environments, organizations have to acknowledge the role of being personal at work. In a recent study in Harvard Business Review about how to become a more inclusive organization, leaders demonstrate these three important behaviors, “shares personal weaknesses, learns about cultural differences, and acknowledges team members as individuals.” In this sense, being inclusive requires you to take things personally.
As a leader, I have to model this behavior for my staff. When you help employees feel like they belong, your organization will benefit from having diverse voices at the table, and you will simultaneously build a more engaged workforce.
You are more than your job. You do, however, spend a lot of your life at work. How you approach this has the potential to make you a better leader and employee, as well as strengthen your organization. Care about your work and the people around you. Allow each person to bring her own values and strengths to the work she does every day. Help others be the best, truest versions of themselves. I would like to think that if each of us takes work a little more personally, we would all work in much more caring, inclusive, and productive work environments.