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Practicing Authentic Leadership in the Workplace

May 5, 2021
By Zack Kavanaugh

The concept of authentic leadership dates back thousands of years to the teachings of Socrates, who famously spoke of the importance of “knowing thyself.” And although the lesson of authenticity may be ancient, its application in today’s corporate world, where performative actions and unethical behaviors present significant reputational challenges for organizations, couldn’t be timelier.

FleishmanHillard’s latest TRUE Global Intelligence and Talent + Transformation report, “The New Social Contract,” solidifies the importance of authenticity in employee and internal communications. For example, very satisfied employees are twice as likely to say they receive accurate and honest communications when compared with the average employee. Comparatively, unsatisfied employees are almost three times less likely than the average employee to say they receive accurate and honest communications. From an internal communications perspective, there’s a clear authenticity gap that, if closed, can result in higher levels of employee satisfaction.

The report establishes effective employee communication as a primary driver of employee satisfaction. And to most effectively improve employee satisfaction, leaders also need to practice what they preach. As outlined in the report, nearly twice as many very satisfied employees say they work for leaders who mean and say what they do.

Leading for the Future by Learning from the Past

Authentic leadership is both a timeless concept and a growing corporate imperative. Because of the lack of in-person connection over the past year, leaders have had to find new ways to focus on their teams and demonstrate empathy while leading them through the pandemic. And leading by example now requires leaders to show understanding and flex their soft skills more than ever.

As businesses increase their focus on returning to the workplace and economic recovery, corporate leaders have a new opportunity to set a standard of authenticity. This can take the form of clearly communicating expectations for employees, finding comfort in saying, “I don’t have the answer to that right now,” rather than speculating about new ways of working, and modeling the behaviors they expect workers to embrace. By doing so, they can help increase employee satisfaction, engagement and alignment, while driving business results over time.

And as stated in the report, employees are likely to go above and beyond when they see managers and their employers at large modeling the behavior – a clear example of the impact of authentic leadership at work.

To ensure you’re practicing authentic leadership in the workplace, consider incorporating the following guidance into your daily routine.

Be self-aware.

Start with YOU. Self-awareness, or “knowing thyself” as Socrates would say, forms the foundation of authentic leadership, and high self-awareness leads to better team performance. To enhance self-awareness, consider setting aside time each day to reflect, practice mindfulness or simply take a break from your typical responsibilities.

Live company values. 

Nearly twice as many very satisfied employees say they work for a purpose-driven organization with a set of defined values when compared with the average employee. Ritualize company values, make them a part of each day and ensure your employees know and understand your commitment to living them.

Show empathy.

As employees continue to navigate a changing landscape, be patient, provide reassurance and make an effort to understand their perspectives. Simply checking in with employees, getting to know them and paying attention to their needs are great places to start. Ongoing and thoughtful interactions like these make leaders more approachable to employees.