Help Wanted: Authentic leaders to drive sustainable business success

Discussion
Photo: Getty Images/gorodenkoff
Jun 28, 2021

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is an excerpt of a current article from the blog of Dave Wendland, VP, strategic relations at Hamacher Resource Group and Forbes Council Member. The article first appeared on Forbes.com.

Authenticity in leadership is judged by how you behave, how you communicate and how you serve your stakeholders and customers.

I recently hosted an executive roundtable and, largely influenced by the events of the last 15 months, elected to approach the topic from the standpoint of a commitment to authenticity. We identified four actions necessary to demonstrate authenticity in leadership: sincerely showing empathy, being vulnerable, clearly communicating intentions and being consistent.

Here’s my advice on how to get started on each:

Sincerely show empathy: As my late father often said, decisions must be viewed from all vantage points. Put yourself in the shoes of those who are affected by every decision you make. This helps you not only to understand the impact but also to determine the best way to communicate the reason for the action and the benefit.

Don’t fear vulnerability: In my experience, admitting weaknesses as a leader is one of the most effective ways to build trust. Prior to joining HRG nearly 30 years ago, I ran my own company focused on marketing, communications and advertising. It did not take me long to identify areas of vulnerability that unnoticed would have held my clients — and my personal growth — back. The key is recognizing gaps in your abilities and resources, and then surrounding yourself with a strong team that can help you overcome these limitations.

Clearly communicate intentions: Openly discussing why you’re making decisions and why you’re postponing others makes your intentions clear. During the pandemic, we were open with our associates about decisions regarding work-from-home policies, communication expectations and the health of the business, and they acknowledged our openness with gratitude. Such openness fostered an environment that was both supportive of individual needs and kept client projects on track. Also, be transparent about your company’s financial footing, client feedback (good and bad) and the general state of the industry. This can pay dividends, especially during unprecedented circumstances like what happened in 2020.

Be consistent: Words alone rarely inspire trust — honoring your words is what matters most. Make sure your words are consistently backed up by actions, and trust will likely follow.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What traits define authenticity in leadership? Would you add other actions to those cited in the article?

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"Insecurity is at the root of any number of leadership let-downs including the ones listed."

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20 Comments on "Help Wanted: Authentic leaders to drive sustainable business success"


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Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

I would add true authenticity. My partner Rich and I are very much “what you see is what you get.” We are not different people when we are not working, and trust me when I say I have met many people in leadership roles who were not.

The people who work for you, and those you work for, deserve all the things Dave mentions in this article. Be open, be available, and most of all be you.

Dave Wendland
BrainTrust

I love your addition, Georganne. One of the things I admired most about my mentor – and late father – was his ability to not ALWAYS PRESENT in every moment, but also FOREVER STEADY in his consistency.

As Oscar Wilde is credited with saying, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Your father sounds like a great man.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

Ditto me (are we surprised?). I am who I am. I work hard not to fragment my life anymore.

I think titles and salaries sometimes turn people into something they’re not. They control what they can and think that’s the right thing to do. My brother-in-law is a different person since he retired from his very high level banking job. Before that — well, bankers and retailers are natural enemies and I was just a former hippie retailer to him. He has become much kinder.

How and why did he lose himself in that job? I guess he thought he “should.”

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

I am not surprised! You definitely are who you are and it’s wonderful. You have a refreshing point of view.

Carol Spieckerman
BrainTrust

Nice list! I would add “check insecurity.” In my experience, insecurity is at the root of any number of leadership let-downs including the ones listed. Lack of empathy, fear of vulnerability, muddled communication, and lack of consistency can be traced to, or exacerbated by, insecurity. Unfortunately, insecurity is often portrayed as disproportionately affecting women in the workplace. Just because the problem manifests differently in men, doesn’t mean it isn’t at work.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

Empathy, for sure. Good leaders listen. They accept new viewpoints, consider important new ideas, and open themselves and their companies to the future. We can all think of retail companies stuck in the uncomfortable past because of a refusal to look ahead.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

Nothing else to be said, Georganne.

Ben Ball
BrainTrust

Walk in front when the shooting starts.

Brian Cluster
BrainTrust

Leaders are in their place to solve problems and enable their teams to solve problems as well. When those problems occur, it is important for the leaders to fully listen to their teams and the individuals that worked on the problem and understand their point of view. Through this process, the leader can share authentically where they made the same mistake, what they learned, and how they overcame it. This can be a powerful experience and most likely will stick with the team member in the future. In summary, two key authentic attributes are understanding and sharing.

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

Empathy is number one on my list. as empathy will inform and improve every other action and decision.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

I’ve always found that sincere empathy, i.e.; true concern for you teams, is a primary success driver. That is, the delicate balance between financial resolve and taking care of your people. Meaning that, from my experience, whenever it’s a “tie” in terms of priority, it’s people first. That attitude and execution rolls like a huge positive tsunami through an organization, so that when it comes time for really big, tough decisions, the trust is so high, the right thing is always done. And remember the first rule of leadership: it’s ALWAYS your fault.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

I would add “give feedback.” Both positive and negative feedback, but feedback nonetheless Too many leaders focus on the negative feedback and forget to deliver positive feedback. This also means accepting failure as par for the course – meaning, failure can teach us as much, if not often more than success. Feedback on failure should account for this and not solely focus on the negative but also what positive learnings came from it so as to perform better the next time. This also works both ways, so leaders have to be willing to take feedback as much as they give it!

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

I know this is not going to get me many “thumbs ups” but my vote (if I’m sticking to these four options) is for consistency. Empathy is a quality you either have or don’t, leader or not. Also leaders have to make tough – sometimes – brutal choices that are tough for an authentically empathetic person. Of course leaders need to be vulnerable, but they also need to appear bullet proof in times of crisis. Think of Truman having to decide whether or not to drop the first atomic bomb. He knew there was a possibility that he could be ending life as we know it, but he never blinked except in private. Clear communication is – hopefully – not just the purview of the leader … which leaves me with consistency.

Dave Wendland
BrainTrust

I’m with you, Ryan. Consistency is top on my list. We could have listed hundreds of characteristics on a list, but I was speaking to “actions” that exemplify leadership. Consistent actions (and presentation of one’s self) remains vital.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

I appreciate the goal. But isn’t it possible the term authentic has become so inauthentic that it needs to be banned forever?

I’m reminded of the tremendously valuable idea of MBWA which quickly became an obligation for managers who would wander around and force conversations with employees looking stiff and awkward all the while.

My suggestion is that, instead, we simply ask that real human beings become executives and that companies reward the human as opposed to the artificial. That result will be that human beings will rise to the top.

Sterling Hawkins
BrainTrust

Authenticity usually isn’t adding something — it’s taking away. Removing all the pretense, positioning and posing. I agree with having empathy, vulnerability, clear intentions and consistency, but if that guidance is layered on top of falsities it only makes the leadership (and the situation) worse.

Rachelle King
BrainTrust

This is a well cultivated list of character traits for authenticity in leadership. Somewhere in between clearly communicating intentions and being consistent is honesty and fairness. These are major trust builders. Without trust there is no meaningful leadership.

Often leaders don’t consider that the “rest of the company” has to trust them too; not just their peers and direct reports. The reason why authenticity is so relevant today is because it is an earned badge of trust. It doesn’t come with your title. It comes with upholding key character traits consistently and regardless. For most leaders, this is much easier said than done.

Mark Price
BrainTrust
Mark Price
Managing Partner, Smart Data Solutions, ThreeBridge
1 month 8 days ago

Authenticity requires the confidence and commitment to show who you really are, warts and all. While authenticity is easy to discuss, it is more difficult to execute. While being yourself does improve relationships, it also opens you up to a world of criticism by people who will see that openness as vulnerability to be exploited. Authenticity + strength of commitment to the approach, despite “heat” you may take, will make all the difference.

John Orr
BrainTrust

Trust is earned. Relationships are earned. Leadership or to be a leader, is also earned. Too many executives rely on title alone to force respect. Authenticity and consistency are the two main traits of a good leader. Mean what you say, say what you mean, do what you say. When an executive relies upon forced respect through title instead of actions, it is typically the wrong culture. True leaders serve their teams — servant leadership models are the most genuine and authentic.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Insecurity is at the root of any number of leadership let-downs including the ones listed."

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