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Why leaders need to welcome self-expression, not stifle it

When I think about creativity in the workplace, one of the things that come to mind is self-expression. The thought of having a diverse group of individuals share their ideas in their own individual way is what brings people together and helps move things like innovation forward.

We know for people to freely do so, they need to feel safe. Your company culture needs to brew trust and they need to be surrounded by trustworthy leaders. For any self-expression.

When it comes to using your voice for expressing your needs or desires, it seems to have a different standard in the workplace. Would you say it’s still considered self-expression or does that fall under communication? Technically, it’s both. Self-expression takes many forms and speaking is one of them.

You may have an employee that communicates a need or desire they have and yet, they’re expressing how they feel at the same time. Sometimes it’s expressing to a leader that they didn’t agree with what took place in a meeting.

Or perhaps they’re expressing their concern for being put in an awkward position to keep news confidential that hasn’t been publicly shared. Knowing this news impacts a colleague who is now a close friend of theirs in a negative way and they feel uncomfortable keeping this from them.

There are plenty of examples where self-expression is underrated and taboo in the workplace. In many cases, it’s unheard of and misunderstood.

Not to be confused with an employee expressing a need for extra time off and instead, this is the feeling of expressing oneself about anything is cause for worry.


Fear of being shut down

Fear of being judged 

Fear of being perceived in a negative light

Fear of “asking for or being too much”

And because 70% of an individual’s engagement is driven by their manager, according to Gallup research, it’s crucial leaders individualize to best support them. That means:

  • More listening
  • Leaning into empathy 
  • Being open 
  • Compassionate 
  • Being trustworthy
  • Being understanding 

And so much more. Not everyone may care to be self-expressive with their leader, but the ones that do should be able to do so freely without fear of repercussion. The ones that don’t, probably want to but don’t know how or are afraid.

When we welcome it, we foster more meaningful connections with our employees. Create more trust, open and honest lines of communication and yes – more creativity (a bonus!)

Stifling self-expression in the workplace leads to a lack of authenticity from employees, resentment and low engagement to name a few. It leads to bigger issues like mistrust and unstable relationships.

I often hear from clients, holding back what they really want to say because of how their leader will respond. Yes, sometimes there’s a confidence issue, they lack courage or even struggle with how to bring something up.

Most times, it’s this preconceived notion that you don’t share your feelings or express how you really feel in the workplace. Especially with a leader. For the reasons listed above and in some cases for appearing weak.

Until we break these fixed ideas and perceptions of what is and is not ok in a corporate environment, particularly when it comes to emotions, we’ll feed into work environments where people have to play a role instead of being themselves.

The leaders who are truly committed to doing the work and we need in our organizations – THOSE are the leaders that need support.

Unfortunately, we still have people being hired into leadership roles who lack the basic skills and raw talent for leading others. Gallup’s research shares that companies fail to hire the right candidate for managerial roles 82% of the time and 2 in 10 managers show a basic talent for it.

We don’t need basic talent or skills when it comes to leading people. We need heart, compassion, decision making, trust and much more to lead other human beings. And we need leaders who want to be in those roles.

I’d love to hear from you!

What does self-expression mean to you in the workplace?

Let me know in the comments below!


Lisa De Nicola

Lisa De Nicola is an Intuitive Leadership Coach and a Corporate Magic Maker (a Trusted Advisor who believes in Magic) dedicated to helping businesses bring out the essence of their biggest resource - their people. She coaches bold leaders to help them become the Director of their life so they can do business and life on their terms. With 15 + years of corporate experience working in the world of talent for multi-national, global organizations, Lisa shares her knowledge, spiritual tools, practices and business insights to leaders looking to transform the way they lead from the inside out.

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