In the world of personalisation, algorithms predicting what we are going to do next and robots taking on more of the tasks that people used to do, there is even more of a need to integrate empathy, authenticity and the human factor in our leadership. As we imagine the future of work, we should see that human emotional intelligence is going to be needed more than ever alongside the technological advances we will be working with.
As organisations transform and scale, and technology continues to change the way we work and live our lives, there is even more need for leaders to guide, provide focus and deal with problems effectively. To truly be a leader, leaders need followers. To deliver results, they need to challenge the status quo, develop the best ideas and they need to be resilient. How do leaders start to gain followers and build a movement? One of the most important ingredients is authenticity.
Being authentic builds trust within teams, across the wider organisation and among external stakeholders. A study by Bath University and CIPID found personable and straight-talking leaders are the key to building trust. Establishing trust allows individuals to focus on doing great work, builds organisational strength, and delivers results.
So how do you model authenticity in a leadership role? bring out your authentic leadership? Below are five practical tips:
1. Embrace imperfection. Be vulnerable, be open, and when you have made a mistake, own it. Not only does this role model what you expect your teams to do when something goes wrong, it shows you are human and not perfect. Role modelling perfectionism is exhausting for teams. Keeping up the appearance of being ‘perfect’ stifles idea generation and means energy isn’t used effectively. I worked with a senior executive a number of years ago and they stood up in front of 300 people and said, “Sorry, I made the wrong call.” It immediately changed the atmosphere within the room to one of openness and encouraged people to suggest ideas to solve the issue, and set the tone for future discussions.
2. Confront difficult issues. During team meetings/townhalls be open, and encourage questions and debate. Ask yourself, are the questions/concerns that are on people’s mind actually being addressed? Is there a white elephant in the room that needs to be tackled? Not everyone likes to ask questions on the spot, so open up the opportunity to submit questions ahead of time, not forgetting all the channels available e.g. email, WhatsApp, surveys. And when the burning question hasn’t been asked, answer it anyway. Not only will this demonstrate you know what is going on, raising difficult issues in these open forums is a great opportunity for people to get the right information and context and hear the answers at the same time. This can cut down on negative watercooler chat. It’s a great way to myth bust, allows people to get on with their work, and encourage issues to be raised earlier.
3. Use your own words. Messages delivered with authenticity are more power. When leaders merely present ‘corporate’ messages, they can sound false or forced. Avoid jargon and spend time getting ‘underneath’ organisational messages so you can deliver them, on message, in your own words. Translate them for your part of the business too, and allow your team to share with their teams and outwards as appropriate. As companies go through transformations, ensuring these messages land is critical.
4. Benefit from your benefits. Adopt company initiatives, whether that may be flexible working, CSR day, or mental health initiatives like at work meditation. This demonstrates you see their importance and has the added benefit of encouraging people to enjoy their benefits. For example, if we take flexible working in its broadest sense we know we work better when we have regular breaks away from our desks/screens, so encourage your team to take a break by doing it yourself.
5. Practice self-care.Finally, make time for you so you can be your best physical and mental self to support others. Leaders who push themselves are stressed leaders, and those are the leaders who mask themselves and as a result are not being authentic. People will always feel slight removed from someone they can’t get to know and that distance means people won’t be their best and in some cases, might mean that the early signs of problems with work, burn out, or even mental illness aren’t spotted.
Authenticity is one of the five characteristics of a human culture . A human culture is where people can be their best self, empowers organisations to disrupt and are competitive. Authentic leaders make the world a better place to work!