“When you come to office, you should keep your personal matters behind” I remember being told by my manager as a young sales professional almost 2 decades ago. Your manager never asked you about your personal life, as it was unprofessional and intrusive. Running a personal errand or moping about something back home during office hours, was frowned upon. Every hour at work was precious and those who separated their domestic responsibilities from their professional ones received much admiration. My father missed not a day at work when my mother was ailing and didn’t reveal any of his anxiety. His colleagues who learnt much later of her condition, publicly applauded him for being so dedicated and ‘professional’.
Over the years the definition of professionalism has seen a sea change. Our personal lives which were out of bounds till now are actively welcomed without denting one’s professional image.
Pictures of diaper changing CEO daddies receive the maximum likes and comments as they reveal a more real person behind the title.
It’s perfectly ‘professional’ to interrupt a strategy meeting to take Big Basket deliveries at the door.
It’s alright to be choked with emotion when speaking about the loss of a dear colleague.
Several studies by academic institutions such as Harvard extol the virtues of subtler yet sterling qualities such as empathy, compassion, authenticity in the making of a great leader, a leader of our times. https://hbr.org/2020/10/todays-leaders-need-vulnerability-not-bravadoIf you are a number crunching leader with no tender bone, you are not likely to be high on the popularity charts.
Up until a few years ago, meditation and other such practices were seen as spiritual and fuzzy stuff outside the ambit of corporate lingo. Effective trainings were those that were designed based on well researched western psychological frameworks. In recent times, mindfulness practices are strongly advocated by senior leaders, many of whom are skilled practitioners.
What we are witnessing is a heartening change whose time has come. The tough and competitive work culture is softening to reveal its humane and compassionate side. Qualities such as risk taking, problem solving, high achievement are a routine expectation. Leaders who can co hold these with softer, more feminine qualities such as compassion, inclusion, humility, empathy, will be the ones sought after.
As the demarcations between home and work fade, more employees will seek personal comfort and professional fulfilment from their work spaces. Increasingly leaders will be compelled to shape organizational cultures that promote inclusion, empathy, individual fulfilment; while pursuing business imperatives. They need to be profit driven and people focussed, competitive and caring, drive innovation and be inclusive.
It would be prudent to keep in mind that manifesting these qualities needs conscious and sustained effort. This balance of co holding seemingly divergent qualities, that are masculine and feminine; is not easy to come by. There are many leaders who are struggling to make this transition. A young colleague from a legal firm complained how ruthless her boss had been when it came to taking leave for her husband’s covid treatment. To quote her- “he said he understood my plight, but also expected that deliverables get met. I am under a lot of pressure now and I don’t think he gets me.” Being empathic is not a skill acquired based on cognitive thinking. It’s a transformative process that arises out of deep self-exploration.
Organizations that are committed to the power of personal transformation in its senior leadership will leverage its undeniable advantage in the way they run their business. They will be tough in their strategic pursuits but also compassionate in their people orientation. In keeping with the times, they would be exemplary examples of a more holistic definition of professionalism.