Professional Partner Content

Why Authenticity Is Essential to Leadership

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

“I never estimated how hard it would be to manage people,” said Nancy, a participant in a DDI course for new managers.

Nancy had showed up with a fairly typical problem: She had spent her entire career focusing on gaining the technical skills she needed to excel in her job as an IT expert, but she was struggling to transition to her new role as a leader of a core team of six, with an extended team of 30. To compound her challenge, many members of the extended team ranked higher than she did on the organization chart. She was surprised—and a little hurt—when her new team appeared less than thrilled to see her in charge.

“They’re directors, but I’m only an engineer with no real title,” she explained. She was also the only woman on the team. “I couldn’t get them to attend meetings or even return my calls. I kept thinking, ‘Why won’t they listen to me? Will they ever work with me?’ It scared me.” It wasn’t personal; it was just that she was an unknown quantity in a highly competitive environment. “I realized I had to learn how to talk to people to gain their trust, but I didn’t know how.”

What Nancy experienced with her group is not uncommon among new leaders. The team didn’t really know her. She needed to gain their trust, and a big part of that is showing authenticity. What’s authenticity, you ask?

Being authentic means that your actions mirror what you believe and feel, and that there is no contradiction between what you do and what you say.

Leaders demonstrate authenticity when they:
• Do what’s right, even in difficult situations.
• Treat people with respect.
• Promote trust among others.
• Keep promises and commitments.
• Admit mistakes.
• Give credit.
• Disclose by sharing their thoughts, feelings, and rationale, when appropriate.
• Display confidence but avoid arrogance.

Conversely, leaders who are inauthentic can have a debilitating effect on the teams they lead. These leaders tend to:
• Hoard information.
• Pit team members against each other or play favorites.
• Disregard team members who don’t agree with them.
• Ignore tensions and workplace conflict.
• Blame others for their missteps.
• Take credit.
• Radically change their behavior to sound more “leaderly.”
• Pretend to know everything.

With these behaviors in mind, it should come as no surprise that in the many focus groups we have conducted with senior executives, the importance of authenticity in leaders was resoundingly affirmed—across cultures, industries, and professional sectors.

Executives worry about how their leaders are perceived, and so should you. Why? Authenticity is fueled by integrity, which in turn fosters trust, the fundamental catalyst in the most-admired workplaces. Most-admired workplaces have happier, more engaged, productive, and creative employees. When people trust you, it’s not just good for your reputation; it’s good for business, too.

For more about building an authentic leadership brand, check out my full article.

About the Author

Tacy M. Byham, PhD, is CEO of Development Dimensions International (DDI). She is co-author of the book Your First Leadership Job: How Catalyst Leaders Bring Out the Best in Others.

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