Leading is a tough job! In addition to all your other responsibilities, you must build, nurture, and grow a culture. The culture in a business, department, or organization has the power to not only support the mission but also provide a working environment where team members can grow and succeed.
If you ask your team members what makes a good leader, each is likely to give a similar response. They might describe a good leader as someone who is knowledgeable, personable, caring, and real. The term “authenticity” captures the essence of these traits in a single word.
An authentic leader:
- Demonstrates a genuine knowledge of the processes and systems their teams work within
- Shows real interest in the well-being of team members, doing so in a way that feels inclusive and forthright
- Is approachable, willing to hear and process information for the benefit of the team
There’s Value in Being Real
An authentic leader is honest and open, when the news is good and when it’s bad. They listen well and are willing to engage with and embrace the perceptions of their team members.
Speak the truth and give hope, because doing so is a cornerstone in the study of leadership. Operating daily in an authentic, honest, and straightforward manner allows you to remember what you said and avoid making commitments or promises you cannot fulfill. It allows you to build your team’s trust and confidence. When team members perceive consistency and authenticity in your actions and words, especially during challenging times, their fears of the unknown, or potential worst-case-scenarios, are minimized.
Be authentic in nurturing and caring for your team members. Demonstrate genuine interest in their experiences, invest in their success, and ask after the well-being of their families. Truly showing up for those you lead is one of the deepest levels of authenticity.
The Pitfalls of Inauthentic Behavior
It takes very little for people to start talking about bad bosses. They discuss their mannerisms and traits. Trickles turn into torrents. Examples are shared of how a leader behaved in self-interest or operated at the expense of team members.
Inauthentic leaders might:
- Take credit for work done by others rather than passing on accolades
- Utilize the positional power of their roles for self-promotion and self-advancement
- Reward acolytes or favorites rather than those who actually completed the work
The lattermost behavior can be one of the most divisive and corrosive leadership practices, undermining the collective will of the team to perform.
Beyond Stating Your Values
Your role as a leader is to move your team from a place of compliance, where they’re merely trading time for remuneration, to a place where they share ownership in outcomes. If a team is functioning with a high level of trust and confidence in their leader, this goal is very possible.
But, when each meeting or interaction begins with a proverbial eyeroll of acquiescence, it becomes unlikely your team will function well or achieve their full potential. This is why inauthentic leadership has such a negative impact on both productivity and member retention. Given the choice, people will always seek out a better environment in which to contribute and create.
When leaders are inauthentic, it gives others implicit permission to behave similarly. Your example says more than your words. Claiming that authenticity matters, without demonstrating that principle, means little. And, allowing toxic and negative behaviors to grow within your organization is as detrimental as theft or abuse. If allowed to take hold, they’ll ultimately undermine the purpose and mission of the company.
A Culture Built on Authenticity
When a company commits to supporting a leader, there needs to be a baseline expectation that the leader will speak and act authentically. Senior leadership should also exemplify this principle in their own communications and behaviors. Establish norms and values around communication, interactions, professional behavior, and operational expectations. Doing so supports leaders in operating with authenticity and care for those they lead.
When the principle of authentic leadership is promoted, leaders have permission to establish and grow positive working relationships, refine and align systems for the benefit of their teams, and create a culture in which team members can grow and thrive.
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Tim, with his extensive background in education and management, is a great part of our Fired Up! team dedicated to inspiring teams and leaders. At Fired Up!, our work is dedicated to harnessing the power of culture to equip leaders, build amazing teams, and align operation practices to engage organizations and drive breakthrough results.