Why Authentic Leaders are Winning
We’re more alert to authenticity than ever. When Mark Zuckerberg returned to Facebook after paternity leave, he posted this:
Without working at Facebook, the post resonates with our mental image of him and his leadership style. It’s authentic, humorous, and engaging; and Zuckerberg is one of the highest-rated CEO’s on US Glassdoor.
Authentic means true, genuine; something shown exactly as it is. As workers, consumers, and even parents, we are more savvy than ever; distrustful of claims which don’t ring true, or people we feel aren’t dealing with us straightforwardly. A proliferation of media and social media means that misrepresentation or dishonesty is quickly exposed, and we can crowd-source opinion from our peers in our search for our version of the truth. We prize authenticity, and this is shown in our choice of where to work, the media we consume, the products we buy, and everything in between.
So how does this trend to authenticity impact on leadership and the workplace? Let’s look firstly at how authentic leaders operate, and how this gives them an advantage:
Authentic leaders have great self-awareness. While knowing and capitalising on their strengths, they can admit to not being 100% perfect. This vulnerability enables them to connect with employees more easily. When leaders are able to connect authentically with those they seek to lead, they become more approachable, trusted and influential. It also engenders a culture where people feel safe to be open about making mistakes, and the organisation can reap the rewards in terms of higher innovation, creativity and engagement.
Authentic leaders are original. In half a decade of extensive research, no-one has produced one clear profile of the definitive leader. If everyone was trying to copy the “ideal” leadership formula, authentic leaders wouldn’t be desirable. This type of leader presents themselves to others as they really are, giving employees something genuine, not studied. When leaders are themselves, it also frees employees to express their individuality, which not only enhances two of the three core facets of engagement – affective and social  – but increases loyalty too.
Authentic leaders embrace new challenges and are always learning. They have a growth mindset, and foster this in the people around them. This engenders a valuable culture of learning, which is motivating and engaging for staff. Instead of merely stretching people through workload, staff are stretched in a positive sense, by variety and challenge.
Authentic leaders connect better. The ability to connect enables leaders to communicate directly with empathy, making their message more likely to resonate. Communication of purpose and vision is essential to engaging your staff, but it’s the manner of the communication which leads to the highest levels of engagement.
Authentic leaders are ethical and trustworthy, not making their mistakes where their ethics should have guided them otherwise. The values, purpose and goals of the organisation trump an authentic leader’s ego and desire for money or power, and these things, along with the leader’s innate character, lead them to act in a true and honest way.