To be authentic, you need to be transparent, according to Leigh Espy, IT Project Manager at FedEx; as the leader of high-visibility IT projects at FedEx without an official management-chain authority, Espy has found that authentic leadership has become a cornerstone in implementing successful IT projects.
Espy points to leaders like Unilever CEO, Paul Polman, as great examples for her own leadership tactics. Espy notes that Polman has reduced the environmental footprint of his company, while also increasing Unilver's social impact.
"When he shares his thoughts on leadership, he highlights humility, transparency, diversity and serving a higher social purpose. He demonstrates authenticity and integrity by demonstrating these traits in his actions as well," she says.
And in her own experience, she's seen leaders lose respect by adopting fear-based approaches to management, or by taking personal credit for their employee's work. In that type of environment, employee trust erodes, leaving uninspired workers who grow resentful of the business.
To avoid falling into those pitfalls, Espy practices authenticity at work, and knows that in the end, it will make her team stronger. "In my role leading projects, I do consider it my responsibility to set a standard of authenticity. I strive to act as a model for the behavior I expect and value in others. Acting authentically in my daily interactions demonstrates my expectations of others and how I expect to be treated."
Stephen Nigro, president of 3D Printing at HP, says that one of the most important traits for authentic leadership is "being real." But just keeping it real won't cut it, you also need to be respectful, empathetic and humble -- and it all needs to be genuine. You can't fake authenticity, he says, and if try to fake it, you'll quickly be found out.
"Eventually, the motivation behind what you're doing will become apparent. If you want to have followership, you can do that based on authority," he says.
However, if what you want is an engaged and innovative team, you'll need to get authentic. "Leading by being true and direct, staying connected enough to your team, and real with your beliefs. And, making sure your beliefs are based on the best information available," he says.
Authenticity at work can lead to greater engagement with your team, and Nigro says that doesn't mean everyone always has to agree with you either. It's not always about being on the same page, but instead about "being clear on what's driving the business decision or motivation, and making sure there is two-way engagement." Make every decision a conversation with your workers, give them a voice and let them know the company values their input and ideas.
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