Are you in the pro-office camp, believing that sustaining high levels of productivity and collaboration as well as a strong and healthy corporate culture demands that employees work under the same roof? Or do you envision a world where your home is your office, and you only make periodic guest appearances at a smaller corporate office?
Whichever side of this debate you favor, pandemic protocols will likely continue to require many organizations to extend operating in a work-from-home (WFH) or hybrid work environment throughout 2022. It’s no longer a short-term exception to tolerate until returning to your more comfortable set of leadership working conditions. It is the new normal. Embracing this new normal requires leaders to choose new approaches, evolve mindsets, and develop heightened interpersonal skills.
As if this transition is not challenging enough for leaders, the world has collectively decided that reducing burnout and improving well-being are organizational imperatives. The data shows that employees are leaving organizations in droves and will make some dramatic life changes to find work-life alignment. This movement alone will likely tip the scales to prioritize a more flexible work environment and keep employees’ wants and desires as the driver of many important organizational business and HR decisions.
As we begin the new year, leaders and managers are being asked to adapt and evolve like never before.
To emerge with an evolved culture, an engaged workforce, and a strong talent pipeline, leaders at all levels will need to engage their personal authenticity. In a world full of mistrust and uncertainty—in institutions, science, information, and people—employees need a leader they can trust. A leader who is honest about themselves, creates conditions that allow their employees to be who they truly are, and provides an environment that brings some calm and comfort to an otherwise chaotic world.
What does it mean to be authentic from a leadership perspective? Turning to Merriam-Webster for clarity, we find three parts to the definition: being real or genuine, being true and accurate, and being made to be or look just like an original. Let’s consider how each part of the definition plays out in today’s leadership landscape.
Leaders who show their real and genuine selves to others at work build stronger bonds of trust. This provides the fuel to power their teams to tackle thorny issues with openness and transparency. Navigating times of change requires faith in others that are guiding them through unknown waters. Said another way, to retain your staff and lead a WFH workforce, leaders cannot be seen as just blindly accepting the company’s rhetoric. They need to find their own voice.
Second, being true and accurate has always been important. But today, in the absence of corporate messages communicated on physical bulletin boards, an employee’s leader becomes their most important communication vehicle. Leaders need to prioritize communication and take time to provide true, accurate information in a timely way.
The last element of authenticity, being seen as original, refers to being true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character. Leaders must know themselves and be comfortable in their own leadership skin. Only then can they relate to others with a trustworthiness and credibility that leads an employee to follow, despite uncertainty, unpleasant working conditions, or other corporate culture challenges.
Research shows that authentic leadership is a significant predictor of an employee’s job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and workplace happiness. So how do you tap into the power of your own authenticity, regardless of what others are doing in your organization?
GET TO KNOW YOURSELF
Get clear on your core values and leadership style. Authentic leaders embrace their unique leadership style that comes. All styles can be effective. I know successful CEOs from each DISC and MBTI type. Whether naturally extroverted and charismatic or introverted with low-key charm and grace, leaders are most successful when they own their style and build a team around them that complements it.
It’s also valuable to reflect on your own life story. Journaling and mindfulness can help you process your experiences and discover who you really are. As Brené Brown said, “When we have the courage to walk into our story and own it, we get to write the ending.”
CONSISTENTLY SHOW UP AS YOUR TRUE SELF
When you dive into deeply understanding yourself and get comfortable with your own humanity, you’re better able to consistently be yourself and let others see your true colors. Many leaders have been taught to hide their weaknesses, cover up their mistakes, and keep a wide distance between their personal selves and their employees. This doesn’t work any longer, and it probably never worked. We want to see the real, true person in our leaders, flaws and all. This is the only way to establish a real connection with the people we lead. When you believe in yourself and your ability to positively impact those around you by using your natural talents, it’s easy to establish a culture of trust with the people you lead.
SEEK FEEDBACK AND KEEP EVOLVING
Finding your authentic self is a journey, not a destination. It takes time and practice. It evolves. The more you show yourself to others and signal that it is safe for others to do the same, the more your conversations become less transactional and more transformational.
Seek input by asking others to share when your words and actions don’t appear to be in alignment. Practice humility by accepting that you may fall short time and again. Learn from it, give yourself space and grace to tap back into your values and natural style, and begin again.
And let’s not forget the imperative of finding more well-being at work. This may be the greatest legacy authentic leaders leave behind. Once you get comfortable showing up as your authentic self, finding more of your own inner peace and well-being in the process, the more others will stop, breathe, reflect, and follow your lead.
Steve Dion is Founder and CEO of Dion Leadership, a leadership and organization development firm that builds strong leaders and cultures.