Nothing develops trust more than vulnerability…great leaders, authentic vulnerable leaders, require the ability to develop deep human connection
Author of ‘Fiercely Loyal‘
Just be yourself. How many times have you heard this statement in development sessions or during leadership training? I like this statement but it’s hollow. It’s missing something. Employees and subordinates are demanding leaders to become more authentic instead of just being themselves. Most subordinates know if you try being someone you’re not, especially in a key leadership position, it’s only a matter of time before you’re found out as an imposter. We see this all the time online. People try to be someone else with their online persona versus who they are in real life. It doesn’t work over the long run and you’re setting yourself up for personal disaster. The key is being authentic with your yourself and your organization. Be authentic with your subordinates. It is Authenticity that is the secret sauce in a recipe on developing deep human connections.
Experts on Authenticity
I recently met a gentlemen named Dov Baron. His website, Full Monty Leadership certainly caught my attention. Dov has devoted his life to teaching, mentoring and coaching leaders how to develop organizational loyalty. He believes it starts with leaders who are authentic, open and vulnerable. This is where leaders can and must connect with their employees if they want to garner organizational loyalty. He also believes there is an incredible byproduct to all of this…this is how you can retain talent especially the millennials who are entering the work force.
“Am I holding anything back? If so, what am I not telling my employees about?”
How Do We Become More Authentic?
If there’s danger in putting on an act, how do we become more authentic without putting on an a show? Here are a few steps that helped me along the way:
1. Be Comfortable With Yourself First – The more you focus on trying being real, the more of an act it will seem. First, be comfortable with yourself. Be the same person in every aspect of your life…at work and at home. If this is out of alignment, fix it. Don’t get me wrong, if you’ve had a major argument with your spouse, kids or roommate the night before, I’m not saying drag that into work. As leaders, we do need to take stock of our mental and emotional state before walking into an organization we lead. I’m saying you’re allowed to let folks know you’re dealing with some issues and you’re not on your best game today. I often let my senior level subordinates know when something outside the organization is competing with my ability to lead and serve. I would not voice all my dirty laundry but just enough to keep myself in check. They certainly understood and would do what they can to keep the day focused on the tasks that need to get done. In effect, they would filter any unwanted noise so I could be more effective when I’m not 100%. They also appreciated knowing I’m human, capable of having bad days like them. And I always try to have their back too. Life is not a three act play broken up by intermissions…life is continuous. It’s okay to let it play out as such. By sharing versus prepping for an act, you will come off as being much more authentic.
“How do I show my employees I appreciate them?”
2. Practice Transparency – Transparency is a major buzzword these days. You hear it everywhere but what does it really mean? It certainly doesn’t mean you share everything with everyone you come in contact with, nor does it mean you give away your organizational secrets. It means having the ability to share yourself a bit more openly with others. For instance, don’t be afraid to tell people about your family or maybe a lesson you learned from a situation at home. We work with people and odds are someone else is going through a similar life event. Quick example, we have a son with Autism. We’ve struggled throughout the first years of his diagnosis but gained a wealth of knowledge on how to support him. We turned frustration into learning. I shared my Autism journey with my Airmen when I first assumed command of the squadron so they understood a little more about me and my family. About a month later a young Airmen asked to speak privately with me. As he sat down in my office the tears began to well up in his eyes. He told me his son was diagnosed with Autism just a few days ago. He was nervous about discussing it with me, because I was his commanding officer, but because I shared my story with the squadron it gave him comfort and provided him the strength to come seek me out. I will admit, it was one of the most emotional sessions I’ve ever had with a subordinate. I could see and feel what he was going through like a re-run of a movie I starred in once before. But on that day, my Airman and his family were forever grateful. Being transparent will have many unintended gifts and I’m thankful we could support a family in need
“Can I afford to be more vulnerable?”
3. Don’t Be Afraid to Show Emotion and Feelings – This is where some will struggle. Some of you wear your emotions on your sleeve and some appear as tough as nails. I’m certainly not saying either persona is right or wrong. However, should the situation present itself, don’t be afraid to show some a little passion, some feelings or let your folks see your discomfort about a tough situations. Some of you know former Coach Dick Vermeil. Dick Vermeil coached in the NFL from 1976 until 2005. I remember him best when he coached the St. Louis Rams and guided them to their first ever championship in Super Bowl 34. If you’ve ever watched Coach Vermeil give a pre-game speech or seen one of his post-game interviews you’ll see a leader with a lot of compassion and emotion when he talks about his people. Click here to check out a short clip of Coach Vermeil talking about his quarterback Kurt Warner. In his last statement you can see him start to tremble as he expresses his love for one of his own. It’s okay to get a little emotional at times. It shows you care and again, shows that you are human. There are far more positive reasons for showing emotion than there are negatives. Just be sure you’re showing emotion for the right reasons.
What You Can Do to Start Being More Authentic
Look at any organizational study or climate assessment and you’ll find a need for employees wanting to feel more connected with their company and their leadership. They want better communication, they want to feel like their work has purpose and they want to know their effort and performance matters. A key ingredient in meeting these expectations is for leaders to become more authentic with their employees and the organizations they serve. You can begin this journey by asking yourself a few simple questions:
Am I holding anything back? If so, what am I not telling my employees about?
How do I show my employees I appreciate them?
Am I connecting with my employees and if not, why not?
Am I playing it too safe with my employees and organization?
Can I afford to be more vulnerable?
Just being transparent with yourself sets the conditions for being more authentic. How are you practicing Authenticity with your team? Share your thoughts in the comments below so we can all benefit from your experiences and grow authenticity within our own teams!