Many leaders are unaware of how their lack of authenticity chips away at people, breeding dissatisfaction, distrust and disloyalty. Organizational effectiveness and productivity suffer when workers view leaders as inauthentic.
One out of three people distrusts his or her employer, according to the 2017 Edelman “Trust Barometer.” Four out of five don’t see authenticity in their leaders’ performance. When only 20 percent of leaders come across as genuine, they handicap their organizations with insufficient influence, poor worker engagement and, ultimately, disappointing corporate results.
The Real Deal
Authenticity is an emotionally vital state of well-being for employees—one that heavily relies on a leader’s consistent true-ness, explains consultant Karissa Thacker in The Art of Authenticity (Wiley, 2016). Being authentic encompasses several other key leadership mandates:
1. Be self-aware.
2. Earn respect.
4. Convey credibility.
5. Earn trust.
Great leaders know themselves well, notes Brenda Ellington Booth, a clinical professor of management at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Business.
When you recognize your limitations and weaknesses, you can openly admit to them, learn to compensate and find workable solutions. Focusing on self-improvement, with an emphasis on asking others to assist you, is as authentic as it gets.
Leaders who fully understand and express their vision are clearer about promoting it—and more successful in getting others to believe in it.
Being respected begins with showing respect to others, both upline and downline in your organization. Model respect for everyone to imitate, and it will be contagious.
The phrase “leading by example” is more than a suggestion. Leaders who model the behavior they want their organizations to exhibit make the most effective strides in establishing a healthy culture. Employees respect leaders who walk the talk.
Humility, expressed as a willingness to listen to and learn from others, is one of the most effective ways to earn respect, asserts leadership coach Brent Gleeson in his Inc.com article, “7 Simple Ways to Lead by Example.” Authentic leaders recognize they don’t have all the answers, and probably never will. Soliciting others’ ideas showers them with affirmation.
Sincere leaders say what they mean and mean what they say. A genuine, relational approach to people shows them they’re valued, Booth notes. When they see a leader who’s interested in them, they’ll reciprocate, which fuels engagement and productivity.
Relationships ascend to the next level when you seek feedback from your staff, especially regarding how they’re being managed. Your willingness to listen demonstrates an authentic sense of vulnerability that reveals courage, candor and caring.
People don’t believe leaders who exhibit questionable behavior. Being true, inwardly and outwardly, avoids this potential pitfall.
Trueness to oneself is the most basic form of genuineness, which aligns with authenticity. Be the real you. Faking things is deceptive and eventually evident to all. People aren’t fooled for long. They’ll question and distrust inconsistencies. Being true to yourself requires healthy self-awareness and self-worth. Who you are is the person people will see, and it’s the noble character in you they want to see.
Consistency in trueness builds credibility. People know who they’ll face day in and day out, through good and tough times. Great leaders have trained themselves to proactively discern the high road and take it, with honorable motives.
Honesty shouldn’t be the best policy; it should be the only policy. Leaders caught in a lie inflict damage to themselves and those around them.
Exercise judgment when truth must be guarded. Confidentiality is required for credibility. Sensitive, personal or private information must be handled carefully and discreetly. Don’t jump to conclusions or make decisions based on assumptions or rumors. Once inappropriate things are said or misinformation falls into the wrong hands, it cannot be retracted.
Establishing a system of personal checks and balances conveys the importance of accountability. Submitting to the authority of peers or top leaders helps assure people that the decisions governing them can be trusted as prudent and beneficial for everyone (catering to their inward need for safety and assurance).
When you accept blame for errors and give credit for victories, you’re demonstrating accountability and setting the stage for greater trust. Your actions place value on the most appropriate people: those doing the work. Without your people, you accomplish nothing, so be sure to express appreciation. You’ll be rewarded with their trust.
The greatest leaders give their people the most freedom possible to make decisions, pushing authority down to the most foundational level. This is a powerful sign of trust in staff, and it is returned with something just as powerful: trust in the leader. Employees free from overcontrol and micromanaging acquire a sense of empowerment that raises productivity and innovation.
Finally, authentic leaders are flexible. They adapt to shifting situations and go off script if needed, always keeping in mind their people’s well-being. Sticking to routines or insisting on preferences shows inflexibility, which is usually self-serving. Your willingness to change plans in response to a challenge or crisis, with authentic good judgment, is a sign of your trustworthiness.
You owe it to yourself and your people to continually refine your character and insights, as well as think and respond in credible, authentic ways. Work toward making effective decisions and powerful impressions that draw your people into an engaging and productive unity you never thought possible. Let an experienced leadership coach assist with the areas that challenge you the most.