Coping mechanisms are important means of navigating tumultuous waters and traumatic environments These primitive psychological gears largely operate on the subconscious level, activated by the necessity of the moment. However, if they continue to operate without a person’s awareness, over time they transform from a mental shield to hide behind in time of need into a barrier that interferes with healthy living. As with so many things, being in a leadership position will only amplify the effects of these unchecked coping mechanisms.
Compartmentalization is one such piece of psychological machinery:
Compartmentalization is a lesser form of dissociation, wherein parts of oneself are separated from awareness of other parts and behaving as if one had separate sets of values. An example might be an honest person who cheats on their income tax return and keeps their two value systems distinct and un-integrated while remaining unconscious of the cognitive dissonance.
Or, put another way: compartmentalization is the difference between the “Personal You” and the “Business Leader You.”
Keeping issues, emotions, values, and parts of your personality separate from each other is a way to deal with a temporary emergency situation, trauma, or extreme stress. However, like the imposition of martial law, it is no way to conduct one’s day to day affairs. Yet somehow, it has become an accepted course of professional wisdom to keep your personal feelings and values separate from matters of “just business.” Such compartmentalization has even been offered as a strategy for success in the digital pages of Forbes. Yet, this approach is fraught with personal and organizational risk. In the words of Dr. Mark Goulston, writing in Psychology Today:
One of the challenges however of being highly compartmentalized is that over time, people may lean more and more into those compartments where they feel most competent, capable and confident. That can cause other compartments to either atrophy from disuse or in some cases never develop in the first place. Over time these people can appear to be more like “human doings” that don’t feel particularly present as people even as they appear quite competent in a particular function.
Such compartmentalization is, in fact, the opposite of leading with Integrity.
One of the best aspects of Dr. Henry Cloud’s book by the same name is the effort he undertakes to restore the full meaning of the concept of integrity. Integrity is about far more than simple honesty. From the Oxford Dictionary:
- The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness
- The state of being whole and undivided
- The condition of being unified, unimpaired, or sound in construction
- Internal consistency or lack of corruption in electronic data
Calling upon “the history of the word integrity itself,” Cloud fleshes out the concept:
the origins of the word we can see in the French and Latin meaning of intact, integrate, integral, and entirety. The concept means that the “whole things is working well, undivided, integrated, intact, and uncorrupted.” When we are talking about integrity, we are talking about being a whole person, an integrated person, with all of our different parts working well and delivering the functions that they were designed to deliver. It is about wholeness and effectiveness as people. It truly is “running on all cylinders.”
To lead with integrity is to bring your whole self to the effort: emotionally connecting with the people you lead, allowing yourself to genuinely experience empathy for them, and having those pieces of your self be as much a part of your leadership decision making as your revenue outlook, budget pressures, and ROI calculations. Be the same person to your team that you are to your friends, your family, and your self. Let your senses of right and wrong, healthy and unhealthy, wise and foolish be evident in You, regardless of which arena you are operating in at the moment.