Authenticity is becoming more and more of a prized attribute in business today. The global economic crisis resulted in a breakdown in trust in many large organisations. Both employees and customers now expect more transparency. We want leaders who are open, honest and authentic writes Dr Simon Hayward, CEO of Cirrus, in Australia’s Business First magazine.
An authentic leader can be trusted to behave consistently and in line with what they say is important. They also recruit and recognise people who demonstrate positive values in order to build a values-based culture. This culture is often reflected in the character of the senior leaders and the principles on which they make decisions, as well as the degree to which they foster open and transparent relationships. Authenticity enables you to create trust. It is most effective when organisations insist on values-based leadership across the business. Leaders at the top are influential role models. How they behave influences other leaders and managers at all levels.
The characteristics of an authentic and connected organisation:
- Leaders at all levels build open and trusting relationships with all colleagues.
- Leaders and colleagues have strong self-awareness and emotional intelligence.
- Leaders act, and encourage others to act, with an awareness of what is happening now.
- Leaders and colleagues always act in the best interests of the whole organisation.
The characteristics of an authentic leader:
- Genuine role model: the leader’s behaviour demonstrates the values every day. These leaders are intolerant of behaviour that demonstrates the opposite of the values. They have a strong moral compass and understand that actions speak more loudly than words.
- Self-awareness: the leader is in tune with his or her own emotions and is able to manage them effectively so that their emotional reactions to events don’t interrupt positive behaviours involuntarily.
- Open and transparent relationships: the leader encourages a high degree of honesty based on mutual respect with others.
- Balanced processing of information: the leader seeks an objective perspective and to make sense of each situation in an unbiased way so that they can encourage balanced decision making and action.
Purpose and direction
A clear sense of purpose and direction is important. It helps to engage employees and to align everyone. Purpose and direction go together because they are about what the organisation does and why it is significant. They define and give emphasis to its meaning in the world, which in turn gives the people who work there a shared sense of doing something worthwhile, of making a difference. Authenticity is more about how the business operates. It relates more to the values and the culture.
Values and behaviour
If senior leaders talk about particular values but do not live them in practice, those values will never become ingrained across the business. Any disconnect will be highlighted in the everyday way leaders make decisions, manage performance, promote people and carry out other responsibilities. The difference between what the leaders say and what they do discourages trust among colleagues.
A common feature among many businesses I meet in my work is this lack of trust among colleagues in the senior leaders of their organisation. If people hear one thing and see another played out in practice, they are unlikely to believe the words or the underlying intentions of the leaders involved. Trust matters, and is a foundation stone for effective distributed leadership.
Making this explicit is both important and very helpful. Unless you communicate effectively with people across the business to develop and sustain a good level of understanding about what values you share and what behaviours are therefore valued or not wanted, colleagues have no reference point. In one client I work with, the CEO replaced two successful Board members over a two-year period because they were not living the values of the organisation. Despite repeated challenges from the CEO, the two executives chose to continue to behave in ways that demonstrated a moral pragmatism that the CEO found unacceptable. The signal to everyone else in the business was clear: we take our values seriously and they are non negotiable, even if you are performing well in other ways.
Building open relationships
Open, transparent and trusting relationships are the fundamental enabler for a successful, connected organisation. When these relationships are in place, leaders can give authority to others to take decisions and make things happen. Others feel comfortable and confident to take that authority and its associated risks.
Personal and collective authenticity is a pre-requisite for the quality of trust that is required for connected relationships to work in practice. Authentic leadership suggests that leaders need to have high levels of self-awareness, a strong moral compass, the ability to make sense of information in a balanced way, and have open and transparent relationships.
Leaders who build relationships of trust and respect engender stronger commitment among the people they lead than those who do not. Leadership based on balanced judgement and fairness of decision-making engages colleagues and encourages them to develop effective, connected relationships across the organisation. It offers a behavioural framework to guide people to achieve the purpose and direction in a principled and satisfying way.
My own research has found that authenticity is a key factor of ‘connected’ leadership. I combined this research with my experience of working with may global client in my recently-published book, Connected Leadership: How to build a more agile, customer-driven business. Today’s most successful leaders connect people across the organisation to strategic goals and to customers by developing a shared agenda through purpose, direction and values. They devolve decision-making responsibility and encourage a culture of collaboration and teamwork. They stimulate a high degree of empowerment and trust that each person and team will perform to the best of their ability. They increase agility through developing a learning culture that drives innovation and ruthless prioritisation.
Becoming a more authentic, connected leader often involves letting go of ingrained, hierarchical ways of working. This can be quite daunting for leaders who are more used to a command-and-control style of management. The rewards, however, are significant.