By Simon Mitchell
I find myself wondering why “makeup-free selfies” has created such a Twitter and Facebook storm. For those of you that don’t know, women all over the UK bared their makeup-free selves on Facebook and Twitter in order to raise awareness for Cancer Research UK and raised £8m in the process! But why is the simple act of taking a photo of oneself without the mask of makeup so inspiring? Perhaps it’s something to do with the inherent truthfulness and risk of showing oneself as one truly is.
Authenticity is one of the most important qualities a leader can possess. In the modern world, probably even more so. Millennials expect even greater transparency than the generations before them - partly driven by the rise of social media and people can spot a fake at 100 yards.
You’d think there would be nothing easier than being ourselves, but funny things can happen when you head to the office… Too often leaders fall into the trap of thinking that there is a way they “should” act at work, whether this is due to them wanting to appear “in charge”, or sometimes driven by feelings of insecurity. Most people exhibit a degree of chameleon-like behavior at work where they try to fit in with their surroundings, and that’s right and proper. But it’s possible to push this too far, leading to demotivation and lack of productivity as the effort of constantly “acting” a certain way leads to intense pressure. If leaders are living inauthentic work lives, it can have serious repercussions for teams and businesses.
So what can we do when we’re essentially “on” 24/7? In his superb book “Authentic Leadership”, Bill George, former CEO of Medtronic Inc., details five qualities of the authentic leader:
- Purpose – Upholding one’s fundamental purpose as a leader
- Values – Behaving in ways consistent with one’s personal values
- Heart – A willingness to share one’s self with others in a genuine manner
- Relationships – The ability to develop close relationships that endure over time
- Self-discipline – Maintaining consistent and predictable work habits on which others can depend
I think this neatly sums up the behaviours that leaders should embody to be truly authentic. Two things also go without saying; firstly, personal values have to at least not be at odds with organisational values. And secondly, those at the top of an organisation have the most influence on the organisation’s culture, so they must act, say, and do things in a manner which fosters the culture that the organisation espouses.
Openness is important to help reinforce authenticity. And part of being open is sharing thoughts and rationale for decisions made in a business. Those at the top can sometimes lose sight of the importance of helping the rest of the team understand why they make certain decisions. Some choices have to be made without the whole team’s involvement and if leaders decide on a certain course of action which turns out to be unpalatable, explaining to their team the full reasons behind the decision will help the team be more accepting of the decision. This sharing will also help express the authenticity of the leader and will foster trust, which is an important catalyst to a highly functioning work environment.
Interaction with colleagues is naturally a key way to convey authenticity. At DDI, after decades of research, we have developed the Interaction Essentials, which are five principles to follow to meet others’ personal needs. In times of stress, interactions with colleagues are often the first thing to go out the window and by striving to consistently behave in ways that leave everyone feeling like they are important, a leader can become far more motivational, approachable, and effective.
Being authentic makes it easier for executives to be true to their beliefs, while maintaining positive and respectful interactions with their team. As a result, it's critical for every leader to examine how transparent, authentic, and "themselves" they are at work. The more authentic they can be, the more likely they are to find their team well motivated to deliver. So perhaps now is a good time to take a makeup-free “selfie” of your own leadership style where you look a little deeper at your “warts and all” self.
Simon Mitchell is United Kingdom General Manager, European and Multinational Segment Marketing Director.