THE BLOG
06/02/2014 12:28 pm ET Updated Aug 02, 2014

Take Yourself To Work Every Day!

Millions of American women reconcile their careers and personal lives by leaving someone behind as they head off to work each morning. For some, the time away can cause stress and disharmony both at work and at home. The legitimate challenges of "having it all" and achieving "work / life balance" are now well-documented. But what happens when the person you're leaving at home is you? Experts agree that everyone benefits if you end the neglect and "bring your whole self to work."

The entire notion of a "personal self" vs. a "work self" - with clear boundaries in between - is fading. There will inevitably be spillover. Research and experience have shown that when employees have opportunities to express who they really are in the workplace, everyone benefits. Conformity is a thing of the past; today, we should differentiate ourselves from others. You never know when your range of "personal" skills and experiences will advance your career. That is what this blog is about...

As usual, dynamic women in business are lighting the way. Nowhere was that more apparent than at the third annual Generation W Conference in Jacksonville last month. The event is itself a celebration of women who are visionaries in their fields. Its founder and CEO, Donna Orender, explained, "Our event is about imagining possibilities. Whether winning a game or crafting an effective marketing strategy, women understand that building teams and forging relationships produces spectacular outcomes."

As a former professional women's basketball star who later became WNBA league commissioner, Donna knows a thing or two about team building. Her ability to bring the right players together harmoniously has been a key to her success both on and off the court. It also made for an awesome event.

It started with keynote speaker Carla Harris who told a story about taking yourself to work that I won't soon forget. A vice chairman at Morgan Stanley Global Wealth Management and native of Jacksonville, Carla took the stage - and the business world - by storm. So what does it take to become a top investment banker at a global financial services institution? Intelligence? Absolutely. Charisma? That too. A lovely singing voice? Couldn't hurt, it turns out.

A trained gospel singer, Carla arrived at a meeting for a potentially lucrative relationship with Burger King. The competition for the business was, of course, intense. Speaking to a senior executive from the company, Carla recalled the Burger King jingle "Have it Your Way" from TV ads. Finding a break in the conversation, Carla quietly sang the lyrics to one of the client representatives: "Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce, special orders don't upset us, all we ask is that you let us do it your way." She went on to perform the entire jingle including the second verse (which most people don't even remember exists)! This extra bit of Carla led to a greater (and stronger) relationship between the two principals. She certainly "had it her way" at that meeting!

Everywhere I turned at the Generation W Conference, I seemed to encounter a woman who had managed to bring her whole self to work, and who benefited tremendously as a result. When she was fifteen, Lisa Shalett, now a partner and global head of brand marketing and digital strategy at Goldman Sachs had an unusual summer for a teenager from Long Island. Though she didn't speak a word of Japanese, she spent a transformational summer in Japan living with a Japanese family that spoke no English through a student exchange program. Lisa returned from that experience fascinated with the Japanese language and culture, and went on to become fluent in Japanese, earning a BA in East Asian Studies and an MBA, both from Harvard.

Lisa discovered early in her career that there is a professional role called Japanese equity sales, in which her Japanese background would be valued. That is how she came to join Goldman Sachs, where she has been in a variety of roles ever since. She credits a lot of her early success to her cross-cultural experience. Her Japanese language skills still come in handy, especially in meetings where participants are unaware of her proficiency. ;)

While at the conference, I struck up a conversation with Melinda Wolfe, chief human relations officer at Pearson. She told me that living her life authentically has been one of her keys to success. Melinda has melded her personal passions - raising a multicultural family, integrating her workplace and community interests, and bringing her lifelong love of travel and cultural immersion--to her professional life. During her career in roles such as the head of diversity and inclusion and chief human resources officer for major global companies, she has drawn extensively from her personal experiences.

It makes sense that women would pioneer the "take yourself to work" movement. Research has shown that women often feel disconnected from corporate cultures that have traditionally rewarded "masculine" leadership styles. To verify my intuition, I went to expert, Erin Hilgart, president of Hilgart, an organizational development consultancy. As Erin notes, "Women are finding ways to color outside those rigid lines and businesses are benefiting. Encouraging team members to bring more of themselves to the workplace leads to innovative business opportunities, enhanced products and services and improved efficiency."

So the lesson here is simple: We all, especially women, feel pressure to conform. But don't leave the best parts of you at home when you leave for work, or else the workplace will be worse for your absence.