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There’s only one ‘you’

If we want to inhabit authentic workplaces, we first need to be authentic at work.

Credit: NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI)

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Over the holidays, I read a book about quantum superposition because I’m a giant nerd.

Because I like to have fun, it was a novel, not an academic text.

Quantum superposition is a concept I’m guessing many people are familiar with, even if they don’t know the term. (Here’s where I’m going to dumb down the physics a bit, since dumbed-down physics is the only kind of physics I really understand.) Superposition is the ability of a system to be in multiple states at the same time until it is measured or observed. The most relatable example is Schrödinger’s cat.

That’s the thought experiment about a cat, a vial of poison, and a radioactive source all placed in a sealed box. If an internal monitor detects radioactivity, like an atom decaying, the vial is shattered, releasing the poison, which kills the cat. However, until the box is opened and the cat is observed, it exists in a state of superposition — that is, both alive and dead. Only upon observation does reality collapse into one possibility or the other.

This is the basis for the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, or more simply the idea that there are an infinite number of universes existing parallel to our own that are spawned every time something is observed or we make a choice.

This is pretty trippy stuff, but the cool thing is that as I sat down to figure out what I wanted to write about this month, I actually observed one of my alternate universes — or at least as close to one as I’ll ever get. Looking across the room, I watched my eldest son, Isaac, as he read before bed. Nine years old, Isaac is in many ways a mirror image of myself. We share many of the same personality quirks, but we also have small differences in how we relate to the world.

I’m more apt to let things go, whereas Isaac digs in his heels. I’m not particularly empathetic or emotional, while Isaac has a huge heart and cares deeply about everything. As I watched Isaac, it dawned on me that I’m witnessing an alternate version of myself. One that never was me but very easily could have been.

However, the truth is that we often share variations of ourselves to the world. I think for a long time many professionals operated in a duality — “work” you and “home” you — or even a plurality (“party” you, for example). We weren’t showing our true selves at the office, whether out of perceived professional decorum or fear that we wouldn’t be accepted as we are, and we were suffering from an inauthenticity in our lives.

Thankfully, the younger generations are turning the tide. Individuality is a trait more employers now embrace, and with that comes the ability to be more authentic.

Authenticity can be very impactful at work, especially as it relates to teamwork. By encouraging employees to bring their whole selves to work, teams can function at their highest level. Data from Google’s own research into building the perfect team shows that psychological safety — the feelings of trust, respect, and acceptance created in an authentic workplace — is the primary factor in the success of top teams and failure of others.

Co-workers who care about, listen to, and connect with one another on a deeper level than simple surface-level conversations perform at exceptionally higher rates. The fact is what happens in our personal lives always affects our work lives (and vice versa). For leaders, the proposition is simple: when you lead from an authentic place, people not surprisingly want to work with you and for you.

Authenticity evokes loyalty and engagement — two things we should all be striving for in our workplaces.

Click here to sign up for the free IB ezine — your twice-weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. If you are not already a subscriber to In Business magazine, be sure to sign up for our monthly print edition here.

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