What’s sticky several weeks after WorkHuman 2018 ended?

Seven moments are still top of mind.

First, some background. WorkHuman — the concept that you bring your whole self to work — is more of a movement than a conventional conference.

And this movement is growing! According to Globoforce, the recognition and rewards company that pioneered WorkHuman back in 2015, attendance has grown by 500% over the past four conferences.

Last year was my first time experiencing WorkHuman with its impressive roster of keynoters and more than 1,600 enthusiastic participants. (See How to feel more like a human at work about WorkHuman 2017.)

This year more than 2,000 of us gathered in Austin to hear from many A-list leadership experts and others. (We also stood in longer lines, and got closed out of breakout groups, which doesn’t feel like an ideal human experience but ….)

These seven moments made the biggest impression on me:

  1. Embrace that it’s cool to be “uncool.” According to Brené Brown, cool is dangerous because it’s a “neurological straightjacket” creating “emotional stoicism.” When you’re cool, you need to be perceived as completely in control, completely certain. You don’t want to risk any emotional exposure at all. Emotional exposure – that is vulnerability – is healthier, including for leaders. To help illustrate her point, Brown showed a clip from the movie Almost Famous: “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you say to somebody when you’re being uncool.”
  1. Pursue a growth mindset and continuous improvement — or whatever you call them – to support your just cause, make an impact, and sustain your achievements. Simon Sinek, the best-selling author of Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, spoke passionately about courageous leadership and the positive impact it can have on individuals’ lives as well as organizations. Sinek was also an extraordinary role model for showing the value of continuous learning and improvement. For example, he’s explained how he switched from talking about “purpose” to now referring to “just cause.” He defines the term as a “cause so just that it’s bigger than yourself and people are willing to stand up for it and sacrifice something.” He also eloquently explained the infinite game of business. He said great organizations have a fixed “just cause” and use a variable playbook. That helps them focus not on winning, but on continuing to play the game well. This is growth mindset in action.
  1. Recognize that happiness is a “contagious choice.” Happiness researcher Shawn Achor advised that if you want to be happy, surround yourself with happy people and help influence other people to be happy. When people, who are inherently social beings, are positive, they make more connections. “If we’re trying to achieve happiness and success by ourselves, we can’t get there,” Achor said. “We can go further together and enjoy the experience more.”
  1. Drop the drama. “Your ego is not your amigo,” warned Cy Wakeman. She views ego as the primary source of drama in the workplace. When your ego gets in the way, it’s easy to waste time thinking unproductive thoughts and acting out. In fact, she estimates that 2.5 hours per person each workday are devoted to unnecessary drama. Leaders need to counter this by “facilitating good mental processes so that people can get rid of emotional waste in the workplace and put their full self into doing what’s right.” For more about this and other speakers’ take on managing energy, see Why you need to manage energy, not people.
  1. Ask for feedback, not give it. In one of the pre-conference sessions, Dr. David Rock, co-founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute, described how the way most organizations teach feedback is broken. (I wrote about this last year in my Forbes article, Turn the tables and ask for feedback.) What was new and refreshing for me was watching the participants respond positively to David’s explanations and research. Over the next three days, several speakers referred to David’s talk too. Here’s hoping this becomes sticky because bad feedback or feedback delivered poorly can hurt the WorkHuman movement. By contrast, those who learn to ask for feedback and get it can grow and develop better, and feel more authentic at work.
  1. Safeguard yourself and your organization from the bad barrels, not just the bad apples. Three major players in the #MeToo movement – the social activist Tarana Burke, the Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Ronan Farrow, and the actress/activist Ashley Judd — came together for the first time to talk about the movement’s impact in the workplace, and the role HR leaders especially need to perform. Burke and Farrow kept reinforcing the need not just to find and spit out the “bad apples” but also to fix the bad barrels, that is the systems and culture that contribute to the apples behaving badly and getting away with it. Burke especially believes that we have a small window of time to act. She advocated always placing principles above personalities to build cultures where everyone feels safe and empowered.
  1. Protect employees, not just CEOs and other executives. Several speakers, most notably Simon Sinek and Ronan Farrow, stressed that HR leaders need to look after employees, not advance the executives. Sinek observed that too many HR leaders see themselves as defenders of CEOs, not defenders of the people. And as a result, HR executes the CEO’s wishes. It was telling that one of the #MeToo panelists was the New Yorker investigative journalist who less than a week after his panel experience won a Pulitzer Prize for breaking the story about the Harvey Weinstein scandal. Journalists at The New Yorker, New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post have led the way uncovering sexual harassment cases in organizations.

These moments show the importance of humans connecting, respecting one another and building something bigger together than each of us could individually.

Here’s to keeping the momentum of WorkHuman going and growing!

Will you join the movement?  

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