Can Half a Person Be a Whole Leader?

by Alli Polin on October 8, 2013

work-life balance requires whole people and whole leaders with full lives

I meet so many people who talk about their life and work as if they are literally two different worlds – the level of compartmentalization is extreme.

Like a badge:

“I never talk about work at home”

Dripping with judgement:

“I can’t stand it when John talks about his kids at work.  I never talk about mine at the office.”

Club members only mentality:

“Our holiday party is Saturday night!  Employees only though.”

We’ve created a view of the world where people are pressured to show up as workers, but not as people.

  • People have whole lives – Workers have work
  • People have joy and sorrow – Workers have work plans and deadlines
  • People have good days and bad days – Workers have productive days and unproductive days
  • People have a life that doesn’t stop – Workers have work that doesn’t stop
  • People have relationships – Workers have co-workers

It’s almost as if we’ve come to a place that we’re half-people half-worker, super-human robots that can turn on and off with the flick of a switch.  At least that’s what we’d like to think… However, that’s not our reality.  Work bleeds into 24/7 thanks to omnipresent technology.  Smartphones, email, text, hangouts etc mean that we don’t have to be at the office to be working.  Why is it that work can constantly spill into our off-hours but life can’t spill into our work without the stigma of looking weak, uncommitted or, at best, messy.

Can a Half Person Be a Whole Leader?

Leadership should not require us to wear a mask and play a role to get people to follow our vision.  I don’t know about you, but I want to work with real people.

  • People who laugh
  • People who understand that I’m worried about my sick child at home
  • People who mess up
  • People who care about other human beings
  • People who are human beings

The best leaders make the leap to not only show us their smarts but also their hearts (Click to Tweet)

Being a full person at work does not mean constantly talking  about family, TV and sports and our latest vacation… but it allows room to talk about the things that matter to us and make us who we are.  Accept that we have good days and bad days, sick days and on days etc.  Hello!  We have 24 hours a day to live our life not eight at work, eight to sleep, and eight to enjoy.  Choose to enjoy it ALL and be you 24/7.  We are not half people but whole people and whole leaders with whole lives.

I’m not calling for the eradication of all boundaries – just an acceptance that lines that can move, blend and blur to create meaning no matter where we are.

I want to be a leader that shows up as my full-self.  Goofy, happy, serious, mom, partner… the full range of who I am.  What about you?

For coaching, consulting or speaking Let’s Connect!

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Karin Hurt October 8, 2013 at 6:56 am

Alli, I’m totally with you on this one. I’m always amazed at how many people say, “I’m a completely different person at home.” Those strengths that you use with your family, at church and as a good friend all matter at work too. The most effective leaders I know are comfortable in their integration.


Alli Polin October 8, 2013 at 7:29 am

Well said, Karin! Comfortable with their integration… that’s exactly it.


Chery Gegelman October 8, 2013 at 7:41 am

Alli – I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Thinking how hard it is to feel whole if we haven’t figured out how to comfortable, valuable and intentional in every part of our lives. (I do feel like there is an increasing shift to remember that humans have lives outside of work and to support and even embrace the whole person instead of just the suit.) Do you see that shift too? (Even if it is slow in coming?)


Alli Polin October 8, 2013 at 7:48 am

Feeling whole is a part of being in flow and it’s hard when we’re pushing hard on the on-off switch.

You know, I haven’t seen the shift but I have heard more talk about it. Even recently, I’ve seen orgs and leaders that talk a great game but would still ask someone to miss an important event if a deadline was approaching. I think it’s still very organization culture dependent and even industry dependent for that matter.

I do, however, sincerely hope that you’re right and the shift is here. I’m going to keep my eyes open for more signs that it is, indeed, the case.

Thanks so much, Chery!


Hoda Maalouf (@MaaHoda) October 8, 2013 at 8:26 am

Dear Alli,
I am a transparent person and I can’t hide who I am where ever I am. But now I am labeled as the “mother of the Computer Science Department”, and because of that I don’t think I will ever have the chance to become more than a chairperson of this department.
To come back to your post, some people still think that to be a “Dean” or “Vice President” (The 2 higher levels that I could get to) are only accessible for people who are not “too human”, people who managed to distance themselves from their employees, and are just the opposite of “servant leaders”.

Excellent Post Alli, Thank you so much,



Alli Polin October 8, 2013 at 8:31 am

Thanks, Hoda. Sadly, your comments indicate that the shift is truly not yet happening across professions or all levels. There is still somehow a stigma associated with certain qualities. I firmly believe that what you bring to the table as the “mother of the Computer Science Department” would serve you well (and the University) as a Dean. Connecting with people, building relationships and focusing on making an impact on their education and their lives is essential.

I can sense your frustration at the wall that you face. It’s my hope that there are people in the leadership that are smart enough and strong enough and courageous enough to realize that we do not live in a one size fits all world.

You inspire me, Hoda and I appreciate you immensely.


Carl October 8, 2013 at 8:33 am

Great post Alli, and I too hear a lot being said about being more ‘human’ in leadership and business. I know for myself, it was easy to forget about the lives of my staff & team when the pressure was on. Fortunately, I had built an environment where they felt comfortable coming and reminding me of why we do what we do –

Thanks for sharing your thoughts,
Best regards,


Alli Polin October 8, 2013 at 9:06 am

I’ve been there even as a VP – I missed kid’s birthdays, anniversaries and more than I care to count and not because I didn’t want to be there.

Work pressure definitely makes us have tunnel vision for deadlines over everything else. How awesome that you have a relationship with your team where they can push back and remind you of what truly matters.

Thanks for sharing your experience, Carl!


Jon Mertz October 8, 2013 at 8:37 am

Spot on, Alli! We work. We play. We face challenges. All make us better humans and leaders. We cannot turn everything off given where we are. We need to focus at times, but we are a whole person and we need to recognize this in our workplaces. It is about leading with empathy. Thanks! Jon


Alli Polin October 8, 2013 at 9:15 am

Leading with empathy! Yes! Can’t do that without being human. Workplaces that embrace our humanity and want the best that each of us can bring will not only win the war for talent but make a real difference.

Thanks, Jon!


Terri Klass October 8, 2013 at 8:59 am

Organizations that value relationship building and trust, know that our personal and professional lives are highly interconnected. We can’t separate the two if we want meaningful workplaces. I really believe that a culture of transparency has to begin with sharing our personal challenges and accomplishments. That type of culture cultivates trust and caring and being human.
Love the post, Alli!


Alli Polin October 8, 2013 at 9:37 am

Terri – Thank you for sharing here! You make a lot of great points and what really hits home is a shared desire for meaningful workplaces. For several decades now I’ve been passionate about creating a Great Place to Work and that starts with being able to show up, as who we are and engage with other REAL people to do meaningful work, build relationships and make a difference. Creating a culture of transparency is definitely a part of it.

Thanks, Terri!


Bob McInnis October 8, 2013 at 9:51 am


Thanks for this message at the beginning of another week. It is a reminder of a commitment that I made in January 2008; I was no longer living my life in silos. I have grown and thrived (and slept better) when I lived, played, worked and dreamed holistically. I am the same in my role as leader as I am in my role of student as I am in my role as grandfather and friend and troublemaker. I show the same compassion and disappointment whether at work, at home or in the wider world. It has gotten easier to speak into the lives of everyone around me and most days I am empathic in most situations but the reminder (or my interpretation) will carry me through October.


Alli Polin October 8, 2013 at 9:57 am

Thank you for sharing, Bob! You are a real-life example that you CAN have a life without silos and THRIVE as a result. I love that you simply show up as who you are in all of those different parts of your life and I’ll bet that the shift was felt not only by you but by many people in January 2008. I think that embracing your humanity gives others permission to do the same.

With thanks ~



Lolly Daskal October 8, 2013 at 3:22 pm

Great post.

Bringing your whole person is bringing all of you. Not only your best, but the parts you are not so proud of.

We live with our duality on a daily basis and those are the parts we must bring forward. If not….. we live a fragmentation of ourselves.

Love love love your post.

Be a whole person that makes you a complete leader!



Alli Polin October 9, 2013 at 6:18 am

Thank you, Lolly! Duality is such an essential part of what makes us human – we can’t see the light if we don’t recognize the dark. When we bring all of who we are, others do the same and the world (and the world of work) becomes a richer place.


Samantha October 8, 2013 at 5:23 pm

Great topic Allie!

I believe the compartmentalization we see/experience so much in our culture/society is a clear indicator to just how detached we are to our deep inner truths and is also a reflection of the chronic lack of integrity that exists personally and professionally.

Bow, I realize that each one of us has our own ‘comfort’ levels when it comes to how much we feel like sharing and with who… and that’s not what you are talking about here. It’s the complete SPLIT between worlds and parts of our life. As if we COULD leave any one of those behind…even if we are forced to act like we must.

And here’s the thing. While we will all have various comfort levels when it comes to sharing, the more in touch we become with our true nature and inner selves, the less we CAN hide and compartmentalize from one segment of our lives to the next. We will BE who we are regardless of WHERE we are.

Naturally, unless my job is at a dance club, you many not find me dancing at the office. Yet just because our occupation may not ALLOW for all parts of our personalities to reveal themselves (which is perfectly fine and natural….like a mortician…save the stand up comedy for another time….please….thank you…) it doesn’t mean the serious person isn’t ever relaxed and funny. Or the jokester doesn’t have a serious or sad side. Or the macho man boss doesn’t ever shed a tear. Who knows! He may cry into his fruit loops every morning before work! (grins)

Anyway, once again, you’ve written another great post that resonates for many!

Thank you my friend!


Alli Polin October 9, 2013 at 6:41 am

You rock, Samantha! You offer so many important distinctions here. You truly expressed many important truths.

I think that the most important piece isn’t that just because we may not see a full range of behaviors from people it doesn’t mean that the depth, complexity and insights are not right there with them. We don’t need to reveal our deep dark secrets to everyone to feel like we can laugh, smile, be serious and focused throughout the day. Doing the inner work to allow ourselves to truly feel and experience our lives enables us to be more comfortable living an integrated life.

You bring so much depth with your observations and I’m honored that you shared them here.


Karen Jolly October 8, 2013 at 5:40 pm

I really enjoyed this post Alli!

I have seen this mentality in management before as though its scary when people are real. I think the real fear is that people won’t get their work done if they are allowed to just be human. My experience has always been that where you are happy, challenged and able to be yourself – you thrive. When I have to put on a mask to come to work I just won’t last.

That type of thinking comes from older generations where everyone played a “role.” If we keep our beliefs free of this thinking that we can’t just be ourselves where ever we are – we will all thrive.

Thank you!


Alli Polin October 9, 2013 at 6:34 am

I’m so with you, Karen! When we feel happy and challenged, we put forth our discretionary effort and truly want to be where we are!

Interesting that you think it’s part of an older or old school generation that does not think that there is room for a whole person a work. Unfortunately, it’s not only older workers that are old school and bring this mentality to their work and teams. I wonder what it will take to fully make the shift that Chery is starting to see more and more.

Really appreciate your comment and insights.


Vincent October 8, 2013 at 6:29 pm


Thanks for this post. Three years ago I’d have argued vehemently with and against you. Today I am actually thrilled that I agree with almost every word. In my case I had too many skeletons and was still living in the shadows and shame of past actions and perceived failures. While I won’t pretend that is why all continue to people keep “worlds” completely separate, it might be a safe bet that up to half fit that bill.

As an introvert, I am not comfortable sharing a lot with just any colleague. Samantha did a good job reminding me that isn’t what we are talking about here. What I’ve found personally is that allowing a soft and gradual blend enhances my personal life more. My partner and I are able to “practice what we preach” so to speak. Success spills over both ways.

Thanks for the reminder of a great area for prime personal and professional development!



Alli Polin October 9, 2013 at 6:51 am

Vince –

I truly appreciate your comment because I think you’ve really brought forth why so many people choose to have such a distinct separation between different parts of their lives – shame. I know I’ve personally run into that head on as well and it’s easier to just not talk about it than venture to a place of vulnerability – especially when it feels like it takes so much darn energy.

I loved Samantha’s reminder that we’re not talking about shouting our deepest thoughts through the office corridors but being present with all that we are and all of our experiences… success, failure, joy, sorrow, silly, on and on. To bring our whole-self to work we need to accept ourselves and be willing to let others see our hearts and not only our armour. Love that you’ve found that blend that makes life sweeter.

Thanks so much for sharing your personal story and adding so much insight to this post too.


LaRae Quy October 9, 2013 at 12:24 am

Love your post, Alli! I’ve lived a “split personality” for years…being one person at work and another at home. In most work environments, no one cares whether the whole person shows up or not, just as long as the work gets done. But the most effective leaders are the one who show up with both heart and head…and that means the whole person 🙂

Well said, Alli!


Alli Polin October 9, 2013 at 6:23 am

LaRae – there is something in your comment that really struck me… I think because it is the truth is so many organizations of every size – no one cares if we bring our whole selves to work if the whole job gets done. That definitely rings true with my experience. It’s really sad too because when we allow ourselves to take a deep breath, and share our hearts without fear, connections are deeper and more meaningful.

I can imagine in your line of work that having a split between your “lives” was almost a job requirement. So interesting yet must have been tough to keep up the split over time. You are one of the most self-aware and in-touch people I know.

Thanks for your comment, LaRae!


Marcy Field October 9, 2013 at 8:12 am

Love the post Alli. Only in bringing all that we are to the table do we truly serve others. Not only does it benefit others but it provides for the opportunity for us to grow and develop as individuals and as leaders. Thank you for your insight.


Alli Polin October 9, 2013 at 8:48 am

Marcy – Absolutely! When we bring all we can to our work and relationships it’s truly a gift of connection, meaning and service. Thank you for taking the time to comment. Always appreciate your insights!


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