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On Authentic Leadership, Neurodivergence, HR and the Human Work

Let’s talk about hearts, minds, impression management in our public persona and authentic leadership, personal branding, social media and neurodivergence. Oh and about Human Debt and the Human Work we need and how to help HR help us all, while we’re at it. All the things.

Today’s article is more of a re-teaming one. The type that would have been a back-from-vacation one in September in the old world. I haven’t been on vacation or away, I’ve just launched two new podcasts and this meant I was hyper-focused on finding the best ways for my team to automate some actions, we have had to do big brand Come-to-Jesus(es) and think big ideas and the only way I could sustainably do that was by giving our workflows more grace than usual and the newsletter would have been a push too far hence the (blessed for some!) silence. That’s part of the beauty of WFAA (working from anywhere anytime) in a start-up - we get to find ways that everyone in the team can follow their own rhythm and give back, we obsess with doing so in structured ways we could distil the knowledge to pass to other teams.

For those of us who have been working remotely for years before the pandemic, in particular, if that remote work was entrepreneurial and you happen to also be neurodiverse, we had to quickly comprehend effective time management from anywhere. Not only as an exercise in autonomy and adulting but also because we all came equipped with a host of arguably maladaptive mechanisms towards our work that allowed us to overcome negative thought patterns or even debilitating mental health challenges that we had to repackage and communicate. Whether we’ve put a name to it or not, advocating for yourself so that work fits neatly into your productivity spurs or inspiration waves, is an act of self-awareness and self-compassion and it’s something the ADHD community calls “radical acceptance” and for many of us, not having that flexibility and empathy in place may well mean we can’t keep the job. We understand how we function and instead of trying to mask more efficiently to try and fit in with the neurotypical world, we make allowances for ourselves where we can and we -sometimes but not enough!- ask for our right to function as our brains allow and contribute when they’re at their best. (This is incidentally a supremely juicy D&I topic as the more I research the less I see in terms of genuine “How do we cater to AuADHD valuable humans?” workplace policies I find so you can expect I’ll be vociferous about it from my platforms.)

While I think we ought to create a Neurodivergence FTW community where we as relatively accomplished professionals -we would have to have a LinkedIn profile and read this- will describe “How I survived and thrived in a Neurotypical workplace” so we can start documenting the human experience on the topic. I too should describe out-of-the-box hacks or strategies that worked for neurospicy me, but I don’t expect them to work for others because everyone’s work circumstances, pressures and fears are so immensely different so instead, I always try and acknowledge my privilege of being in charge of my own schedule. So yes, granted when you “work for the man as just a cog” it’s harder but the demands of what you need to work at your best should still be put forward which is partly why I insist that every employee should be empowered, encouraged and supported to build a personal brand too.

You see, the more I think about it, the more I think that there is a version of the future where we will communicate internally by async comms in video or audio for considerate messages and live video calls or transmissions for everything else where sincerity and instant feedback is needed but irrespective of how, we will mostly interact as digital creators, where filters could be welcomed for work interactions (imagine for instance a translation interface to make your execs understand precisely what you say in their own language!) or where we would have optimised hours of our time for solo and deep focused in-the-zone work and other hours for the most open-hearted and well-intentioned teaming you can imagine. Or at least I hope there is one.

And no, not everyone will have to be a digital creator or an idea person or need as much common time versus solo time as others, but the ability to communicate our needs and our ways of work that yield the most results will be critical. We’ll each come with a “ReadMe” to elucidate and set boundaries.

The main reason why we have to be more intentional about our work, our value and our brand -and consciously work on increasing EQ so we can do so- is that there’s a new time crunch. Having spent 20 years telling bankers their lunch will be eaten only to see them surprised when it happened I don’t like the “do or die!” fear-based impetus for change as it’s clearly ineffective when the execs you speak to already gave up themselves, but in our case, we find ourselves at a time as a knowledge industry (that makes all of us) where the urgency is real as in its absence we will be looking back in 10 years and not know what hit us.

If we don’t start cleaning some of the HumanDebt through regular, well-intentioned passionate, joyful and intelligently emotional Human Work then we won’t be around in a few years.

Are your humans having religiously kept humanising moments in their calendars? Ritualised the all-too-important moments of connection? 1-on-1s? Workshops? Teaming exercises? Mentoring and coaching? Team workspaces where they speak about behaviours and feelings? Regular individual or team actions to reignite purpose and passion and to tighten the human connection between team members? Are your people good at the human bits already? Conflict management, emotion regulation, and understanding external social queues, it all can and should be taught. Are your leaders well trained in servant leadership and helping teams become genuinely autonomous within the guardrails you helped create? Are your people genuinely engaged and having their minds and hearts into it and do you know that in your bones to be true and not as a dodgy result of an NPS survey?

Chances are none of that is the case. Humanizing meetings are being shunned, ridiculed and skipped. Departments and siloses function in virtue of inertia with no one examining the need or the utility. HR, the only beacon trying to defend the humans knows that if we don’t start doing regular Human Work and focus on the psychological safety of the team knows if not, we can not do any collaboration or innovation or really, even decent performance, but has become disastrously and insidiously disempowered in places.

There are companies out there working 9 days a fortnight. Some that never once met in person but have been churning out award-winning projects. There are those who moved to the Bahamas and have yoga on the beach before team meetings on Thursdays. There are those who work in Growth Hacker collectives. Some meditate with the team every morning and then take turns to reaffirm their purpose. Some are walking away from the abomination terminology of “HR” and calling it “people and culture” or “people ops” and even asking the CHROs to become COOs or the reverse to unify the two functions. There are even companies that are trying flat structure with zero hierarchy. All of these people will make it. Even if each and every one of these experiments now are wrong. Because they are from organisations where they had the liberty to attempt these experiments and the care to support them - aka what I call “organisational permission”.

Cue the familiar “But we are not like them, we are much bigger and harder to change and more importantly, we can’t afford it and don’t need it as everything’s peachy as is, the status quo is making us money and we just need to “return to normal and come back to the office full time and if we need any of this fluffy stuff we can do it in 3 months on a Friday afternoon!”

Most are small and nimble, yes, but some are huge. Most have full coffers, yes, but some are just getting super creative. There’s only one thing I can say they have in common: they all do the HumanWork routinely. The talking. The feedback. The allowance to feel. The tacking of every of the taboo topics. The absolute lack of fear. Some even use our Dashboard as their Human Work platform and organise the chats, the team actions and the space for humanising from it.

This made me ponder -again- what we can do to help HR and I’m super pleased to announce that Verdant Consulting and PeopleNotTech are sponsoring a new initiative called “The Secret Society of Human Work Advocates - Community and Pods” which aims to empower HR not just talk about it. The premise is that there are hundreds of these Advocates within HR suffering that they can’t do more and we’ll help them find a way to transmit their vision to the exec team and re-establish their sine qua non partner in a growth role that has been sadly subdued if not lost over the past decade.

We’ll talk about that conversation space more tomorrow and dissect the Mission/Manifesto/ReadMe of the idea (- it’s a working initiative, team, we’ll need all of you who care or it won’t work!) but meanwhile, here is the first episode and you should also be able to find it from all major podcast distributor too.

This pod is a space to have loads (and loads!) of people managers of all types express what Human Debt they see, and we’re happy to facilitate whatever makes them feel safe from the anonymous forum to voice filtered interviews and it will be the same format you see there, ex-HR, lived-it-all-people-exec good cop who understands exactly where you come from aka Allessandria and Human Work Pusher in Chief and perceived bad cop -as I’m so impatient with the snail-like pace of change- aka yours truly, plus regulars that will be equally honest and passionate.

Speaking of episodes and tones, during my yearly Covid bout (IKR?!?) I also had time to reflect on how authentic my leadership is and how clear my background these days so here are two radically different ones:

A Podcast about Duena the person - loads of -cringe!- details about my younger self from the amazing Human Work Advocate and all-around awesomeness of thought and feelings that Tracy Bannon of Real Technologists is

A Podcast about Agile, Duena and the Human Work in Technology from the incredibly resourceful and fellow ADHDer (warning, words per minute often went above 200!) Chris Stone of Virtually Agile

Oh yeah, then there is the small matter of the new people AND tech Podcast with Dave BallantyneCatch us on TikTok and read the launch and story of the podcast on my other newsletter called The Future is Agile on Wednesday but suffice it to say it’s the combination of all my hyper-interests and our almost—-no-filter life as Mrs. People and Mr. Tech live it! ——————————————————————

At PeopleNotTech we make software that measures and improves the well-being and Psychological Safety of teams, come see a DEMO.

“Nothing other than sustained, habitual, EQed people work at the team level aka “the human work” done BY THE TEAM will improve any organisation’s level of Psychological Safety and therefore drop their levels of HumanDebt™.”

To order the "People Before Tech: The Importance of Psychological Safety and Teamwork in the Digital Age" book go to this Amazon link


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