I believe that most employees seek meaning and fulfillment at work. I know this because when I talk to people one-on-one in organizations most are willing to work really hard as long as it’s for authentic, trustworthy leaders.
But sadly, surveys show that employee morale is at an all-time low. A 2013 Gallup poll
found that only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged at work and psychologically committed to their jobs.
People are not easily fooled or quick to offer their loyalty, which explains why inauthentic leaders struggle to hire and retain exceptional staffers.
Authentic leaders have mastered three key skills: clear vision, formulating sound strategies and finding approaches that inspire others to act. To join this elite club, you must align people around a common purpose and set of values. As they perform at peak levels, they’ll know precisely what’s expected of them.
The Problems with Authenticity
While virtually every leader has a sense of what “authenticity” means, few know how to develop it as a skill. To complicate matters, being authentic in today’s rapidly evolving global marketplace has its share of challenges.
As Professor Herminia Ibarra points out in Harvard Business Review
(January 2015), a too-rigid view of oneself can be an obstacle to leading effectively. Three common leadership pitfalls include:
1. Being true to yourself.
Which self? Depending on your role and the context, you show up differently. You grow and shift with experience and evolve into new roles. How can you be authentic to a future self that is uncertain and unformed?
2. Maintaining strict coherence between what you feel and what you say or do.
You lose credibility as a leader if you disclose everything you think and feel, especially when you’re unproven.
3. Making values-based decisions.
When you move into a bigger role, values shaped by past experiences can misguide you. In the face of new challenges, old decisions may produce authentic, but wrong, behaviors that fail to suit new situations.
Use Your Life Stories
The journey to authentic leadership begins with understanding your life story, which provides a context for your experiences. Your story is powered by experiences that can help you inspire others and influence them to follow your lead.
That said, life stories are not always pretty. While most of us can reframe negative experiences in a positive light, authenticity requires us to face up to our mistakes and failures. An honest appraisal may prove uncomfortable, but it’s necessary for self-improvement. It also paves the way for authenticity and resilience.
Practice Values and Principles
The values that form the basis for authentic leadership are derived from your beliefs and convictions, but you cannot truly know them until they’re tested under pressure.
It is relatively easy to list your values and to live by them when things are going well
. ~ Bill George, Finding Your True North: A Personal Guide
Leadership principles are values translated into action. Without action that supports your stated values, you cannot be authentic. The hard decisions you make reflect what you truly value.
Balance Your Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivations
If you’re like most leaders, you may be reluctant to admit that you measure your success against the outside world’s parameters. You enjoy the recognition and status that come with promotions and financial rewards.
But intrinsic motivations are derived from your life’s meaning and purpose. They’re closely linked to your life story and how you frame it (i.e., personal growth, helping other people develop, social causes, making a difference in the world).
Authenticity requires you to balance your desire for external validation with the intrinsic motivations that provide fulfillment at work.
Build a Strong Support Team
Authentic leaders build extraordinary support teams to help them stay on course. Team members provide counsel in times of uncertainty, offer extra assistance in difficult times and share in celebrations of success.
Support teams consist of spouses and families, close friends and colleagues, and mentors and coaches. Leaders must give as much to their supporters as they receive from them. Only then can mutually beneficial relationships develop.
Develop Your Authenticity
In “Your Development as an Authentic Leader” (Harvard Business Review
, February 2007), Bill George, Peter Sims, Andrew N. McLean and Diana Mayer urge leaders to ask themselves the following questions: