Values-Based Authentic LeadershipArticle by Maynard Brusman, June 23, 2019
Companies can no longer be impersonal buildings where employees show up each day, carry out their duties and shut off their brains before going home each night. People aren’t satisfied with simply following procedures and checking boxes. They seek professional fulfillment through engagement, passion and long-term value.
The most successful leaders know that employees want a rewarding work life—an environment that cares for them, values their contributions and gives them a chance to grow. Research consistently confirms that organizational health directly depends on employee satisfaction. When people are unhappy, the company suffers in myriad ways; when employees thrive, the company flourishes. There seem to be no exceptions.
Employees follow leaders who engage and inspire them, relate to them and instill trust. Leaders must be authentic, avoiding deception, contradiction, hidden agendas and ulterior motives.
Leadership experts like Bill George, a senior fellow at Harvard Business School, have studied how authenticity impacts organizations—and how a lack of it destroys them. Old-school thinking of power-based management, which keeps employees controlled and compliant, has failed. Distant, deceptive and insincere leadership repels people, causing multiple dysfunctions. Only legitimate authenticity works.
Unfortunately, many leaders have yet to grasp what authenticity necessitates and consequently fail to implement it. While authenticity’s facets are broad, its general principles are relatively uncomplicated and well worth the effort to learn and practice.
Branding and leadership expert Anna Crowe outlines four of its key attributes in Get Real: The Power of Genuine Leadership, a Transparent Culture, and an Authentic You (Lioncrest Publishing, 2019):
- Direct communication
- Putting values into action
- Leading with passion
Employees want their leaders to be reliable sources of guidance and support, able to handle an ever-evolving environment with a variety of inputs, viewpoints and choices. They need leaders to adapt to the diversity of their surroundings and, as Crowe puts it, adjust to people’s unique situations.
Being adaptable requires a confident and, ironically, consistent character. Adaptability doesn’t mean being fickle, constantly changing course or bending under pressure. It calls for sticking to principles and plans with consideration, reasonable flexibility and understanding.
An adaptable approach fosters trust in challenging times and allows you to be true to yourself. People will know where they stand with you. When leaders put on airs, hide their intentions or contradict themselves, authenticity and trust are compromised. Leaders who remain calm, collected, insightful, understanding and willing to try new ideas demonstrate the trust-building power of adaptability.
Inauthentic communication is the best way to lose employees’ respect and trust. Dishonesty, mixed messages, inconsistency and unreliability are serious communication weaknesses. They’re noticed quickly and are impossible to hide.
But when leaders consistently communicate complete and timely information, people can rely on its authenticity. Leaders become transparent when they admit to being fallible or poorly informed on a specific topic. Such authenticity is attractive, especially when leaders ask for help.
Leaders who hold themselves accountable to their people earn respect. Making commitments means you must deliver on them. If you’re open to feedback, willing to ask people about their needs, seek ideas for improvement and genuinely listen to feedback, you demonstrate authenticity. Taking action based on this input convinces people you’re authentically interested in their welfare and growth.
Put Your Values into Practice
Successful leaders know that key values set the direction of their organizations, but they mean nothing unless they’re backed up with action. People work effectively only when they authentically relate to each other in a culture that promotes relationships, workplace diversity teamwork and professionalism.
Teamwork is critical to maintaining relationships and productivity. We accomplish more when working with blended resources. If you set high goals for your teams, be prepared to provide a commensurate level of assistance. Give of yourself, and clear the way for people to succeed.
You can have fun and enjoy what you’re doing, but treat situations in mature and intentional ways. Your moral code should reflect authenticity and excellence. Banish negativity and inappropriate behavior, and exemplify a commitment to giving your best. Authentic leaders embody professionalism by walking the walk and not just talking the talk.
Make Passion Contagious
Employees who are passionate about their jobs find fulfillment. Great leaders seek ways to inspire passion in their people. Empower your people to make decisions, take action and put ideas in motion.
Challenge your people to accomplish what they didn’t think possible. Provide real opportunities that push them. People find passion when they’re free to be all they can be. Create a culture that aims high, demands excellence and allows for mistakes—when people are trying their best.
Your most effective way to inspire passion is to live it. Passion cannot be forced or faked (too easy to detect). Leading authentically draws followers, so don’t be afraid to show vulnerability. Not everyone will agree with your visions and ideas. Every time you put yourself out there, you risk rejection or pushback. Confidence and determination help balance vulnerability (displaying strength through weakness, as Crowe puts it).
Authentic feelings, responses and behaviors engage people, affording you respect and trust. Trusting employees are more likely to be fulfilled.
Dr. Maynard Brusman
Consulting Psychologist & Executive Coach
Trusted Leadership Advisor
Professional Certified Coach (PCC), International Coach Federation
Board Certified Coach (BCC)
I coach emotionally intelligent and mindful leaders to cultivate trust and full engagement in a purpose-driven culture who produce results.
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