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Ten Leadership Lessons to Live by

May 17, 2021
By Zack Kavanaugh

The past year has given us no shortage of lessons in leadership … the good, the bad, the ugly and everything in between. That’s because difficult times shine a spotlight on the impact leaders can have on an organization and many employees have experienced this firsthand (for better or for worse).

FleishmanHillard’s latest TRUE Global Intelligence and Talent + Transformation report, “The New Social Contract,” states nearly twice as many very satisfied employees say they work for leaders who mean and say what they do.

As many employees continue to recover from an emotionally, mentally and physically exhausting year, corporate leaders have a new opportunity to set a standard of authenticity and drive trust with their workforce through their words and actions. To ensure you’re practicing authentic leadership in the workplace, consider incorporating the following guidance into your daily routine.

1. 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, get mindful or simply take a break from your typical responsibilities. Think deeply about the role you play at your company, as well as the impact you have on those around you. 

2. 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. Leaders play a fundamental role in driving employees’ adoption of company values, so it’s important you embrace and embody them — rather than merely displaying them on company walls or adding to email signatures. Ritualize these values, make them a part of each day and ensure your employees know and understand your commitment to living them.

3. Cultivate inclusion.

What leaders say and do makes up to a 70% difference in whether an individual reports feeling included. At a time when employees long for connection, leaders have an opportunity to open the lines of communication, celebrate diversity and build a culture of belonging among their employees. Inclusive teams have been shown to outperform less inclusive teams by 50%, on average. Welcome all backgrounds, perspectives and ways of working to drive innovation and creativity, as well as to establish employee trust with leadership and among each other.

4. Show empathy.

As employees continue to navigate a changing landscape, be patient, provide reassurance and make an effort to understand their perspectives. Everyone is dealing with many different emotions right now. 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.

5. Empower others.

Bringing out the best in your employees should be at the forefront of every decision you make as a leader. Fifty-five percent of employees say having a manager who cares about them and is committed to their success is very important. And, when empowerment is high, 67% of employees are willing to give extra effort — but only 4% when empowerment is low. Empowering others may mean allowing your employees to take the lead on a project you’d typically manage or finding other ways to boost their confidence. Showing that everyone plays an important role, from the lowest to highest levels of hierarchy, is a core tenet of a healthy, productive team.

6. Be present.

Today’s circumstances demand more time and effort from all of us and that’s especially true for those managing others. Being present in the workplace — wherever that may be — can be even more difficult for leaders. Adapting to ongoing business changes, balancing competing work-life priorities and managing a never-ending influx of notifications makes staying present difficult. Even so, small practices you adopt can result in big wins. Set a few non-negotiable rules around the daily distractions you encounter. For example, don’t check email or phone messages during 1:1 or team meetings to give each employee the attention and respect they deserve. Employees are watching; they know when you’re actively engaged. Fail to be present and you risk encouraging employees to do the same.

7. Send feedback.

Authentic leaders admit they don’t know everything, but they do know the importance of their employees’ knowledge, experience and feedback. Employees want to feel heard, and 93% say a formal way to give feedback would be helpful or is a must-have. By actively seeking feedback, leaders show their faith and confidence in employees’ thoughts, opinions and abilities — helping to ensure they feel valued. This also offers leaders a chance to be vulnerable and involve employees in the problem-solving and decision-making process. Whether they take you up on it or not, employees appreciate being asked, and they will pay you back through deepened trust … but only if you act on the feedback you receive. By continually seeking and listening to feedback, you also create a dialogue around what success looks like on your team and cultivate a culture where failure isn’t feared — thus encouraging employees to seek new, innovative ways of thinking, working and collaborating. 

8. Express gratitude.

Today, employees are expected to go above and beyond for their employer, but aren’t always rewarded for doing so. Externally, they’re overwhelmed by a turbulent environment. Internally, they may be underwhelmed by a lack of connection and support. Expressing gratitude has been shown to boost employee productivity, retention, job satisfaction, and physical and mental health. And when employees were asked what they would love to hear more at work, a simple “thank you” topped the list. Who should that thank you come from? A manager or executive, according to 70% of employees. Show your gratitude every day. Stop to reflect on those who have really made a difference for you at work — then tell or show them how much that meant to you.

9. Stay humble.

Authentic leaders prioritize their people, leading with the team’s best interests and avoiding placing themselves above those around them. Show your team you’re not just the boss, but a colleague, too, with the goal to serve the people who make the company run. Leaders often put business results ahead of their employees’ needs — and ironically make it more difficult to achieve desired bottom-line outcomes. When leaders are humble and respectful, lead with a people-first approach, and prioritize serving employees, the potential benefits — to both your company’s bottom-line and culture — are limitless.

10. Repeat.

Whether you believe that leaders are born or made, you likely agree that to be successful, authentic leaders must take the right actions and model the correct behaviors again and again … and again. As Socrates so succinctly put it, “to be is to do.” Every day, leaders should strive to lead by example, transforming actions and behaviors into resolute habits. Hold yourself accountable. Set calendar reminders, tack sticky notes to your desk, record your progress, ask colleagues for help and guidance. Whatever steps you take, strive for authentic leadership every day and in every action. The practice of authentic leadership is a continual, never-ending process. You restart daily but the small tweaks you make each day can result in major changes over time. The positive changes you make improve how you think, act and carry yourself in the workplace and they encourage your employees to do the same.