I have learned many things over the past year-ish, and one of the most valuable and important is the lifelong practice of embodying and accepting the concept of AND.
We can be sad AND hopeful AND angry AND inspired all at the same time.
We can experience extreme discomfort AND do something that brings us joy.
We can be knowledgeable AND make mistakes as we learn.
Binary ways of thinking don’t serve us; they serve a system that we all exist in that doesn’t provide for our well-being.
When I was working in a toxic workplace, it was always the feeling of “us against them,” the employees vs the employer, the little guy vs the man, etc.
It wasn’t an environment I created, but I certainly participated in it.
That feeling puts a wall up and blocks all the things necessary for a collaborative, healthy work environment.
That feeling is amplified when power is emphasized and distorted in the workplace.
It creates a tension that is intensified by the messaging we receive from the outside world about what being a business owner or organizational leader is “supposed” to mean.
When the financial health of the business is valued over everything else and the power and comfort of those at the top is put above anyone else’s well being, toxicity festers.
And it seems to be running rampant in corporate America.
The pandemic was the microscope.
Organizations are traditionally structured as hierarchies, pyramids of power that determine who gets to tell who what to do, and who you have to go to for permission.
This dynamic thrives because we have bought into a system that focuses on the individual. A system that measures success by what we, as individuals, accomplish in this world.
Who makes the most money, has the most followers, sells the most books, or is the most productive.
And when we face challenges, we try to solve them ourselves, because asking for help means you can’t do it yourself, so there must be something wrong with you.
It can feel like loneliness disguised as control and power.
In this system, if I succeed, that must mean I am taking something away from you.
So when we talk about this system in the context of the workplace, it can feel like this:
• If I pay my team more, that money comes out of MY pocket or makes the business less successful financially (actually, the benefits outweigh the costs long-term.)
• If I give my team more autonomy, it must mean I have less power over them (it does, and that’s not a bad thing).
• If the team gets more, it means leaders get less.
• If we win, they lose. If they win, we lose.
It’s a lie.
But we’ve always done it this way, so why change, right?
And how would we even do that?
What would something different even look like?
When I think of the ultimate work culture, I imagine a dynamic where everyone is working towards the same goal. They feel incredibly purposeful, and their shared values fuel their work.
The organization is fully invested in the success of the team not just as employees, but also as human beings.
Not only is the organization not a cause of pain, but a remedy for it.
It’s not devoid of challenges or conflict, but the conflict clarifies obstacles and results in solutions instead of dysfunction.
It’s not only an ecosystem that people want to be a part of, but it is healing for the entire group.
Ego and power struggles make way for vulnerability and collaboration. Lies and selfishness make way for truth and support.
People are better humans for having worked within the organization, and when they leave for other opportunities, everyone wishes them well knowing they will do good things in the world.
Not to say that your workplace will fill every need for every individual (it shouldn’t), but it can be a support system for the team.
This vision is something to strive for, and not a destination to be arrived at via perfectionism, but a goal to works towards.
This kind of work culture utopia struggles to exist right now, because we are so invested in the current system and how it seemingly serves us, that we resist anything different or unfamiliar, even if it will be better for all.
The current system’s only measurements for success are financial gain for the individual, power, and the size of our audience, when instead we could be using inspiration, collaboration, clear purpose, and how we take care of each other as indicators for achievement.
If you had to use a different measurement other than money, would you describe your business as valuable and successful?
The current system is fearful. It stifles and often discourages creativity, so we can’t even dream up what a different way of conducting business could look like and would be afraid to try.
As I have learned from other teachers, true thought leaders, and business owners, our organizations can be about SO much more than making money.
But we have to give ourselves permission to think about what our businesses can actually be.
They can be ART
They can be HEALING
They can be MUSIC
They can be HONEST
They can be FLOW
They can INSPIRE our teams to be better humans
They can create a ripple effect that leaves the world a better place than we found it, if we let it.
They can be whatever we want them to be, if we free ourselves from the confines of the “shoulds” we are given by a dysfunctional system.
I truly believe that this moment in history is an opportunity to reimagine everything that we thought we knew about business, relationships, and life.
This is a time to not only resist the traditional ways of operating our businesses, but to completely smash the old ways and create something totally new.
I can’t describe what that something new will be like for YOU, your team, and your business, but I can help guide you in starting the shift.
We may all have missions to do good in this world, but when we use the same systems that cause harm to accomplish those goals, it can create the dissonance that is counterproductive to our vision.
Would we say that it is our goal to squeeze all the life force out of our employees for minimal pay for our own financial gain? Not consciously, yet that’s the system we are all operating under in order to “build successful businesses.”
It doesn’t have to mean that either:
- We are the cartoon version of an ogre business owner that forces our team to work in unhealthy conditions for low pay and make them come in on weekends and don’t care when their mom is sick or their kid has a school play and at 4:59 when we see them packing up for the day we give them the side eye while we laugh manically as we count our money and smoke a cigar.
- We care about our team at the expense of our business, so our team is happy but we are making no money because we pay them too much and aren’t good at business because we care too much, and the team is in control and they don’t really respect us.
Spoiler alert: those aren’t the only two options.
The possibilities are limitless.
And who we are doesn’t have to be in direct conflict with the being the leader of an organization that is successful.
We get to decide what success looks like.
We can have a thriving business that makes money and doesn’t compromise our values, one that is collaborative and inspiring while valuing the growth, development, and satisfaction of our teams.
It’s not OR, it’s AND
We just have to make room for both.
What will success look like for your business?
How will you reimagine your organization this year?
What will your AND look like?