Research has proven that authenticity is one of the most critical traits for good leaders.
Displaying authenticity and integrity leads to better, more effective direction and management. But before we delve into the importance of authenticity, we must define it. What does it mean to be authentic?
On a similar note, what are the qualities of an authentic person and how can we implement those qualities in our lives every day in order to be more engaged and connected to those around us?
Several years back, I worked with a guy named Ray, who attended one of our men’s basic training sessions. He worked with the top Fortune 500 companies. After attending our weekend retreat, he found himself facing a major client who was having some operating issues in his company.
Now, during our training, we tell hard truths. We get extremely honest with each other—very real and straightforward. We urge our attendees to start delivering honest criticism with vision and to stop holding back out of fear of rejection. The shocking discovery is that consistently, people trust those who are honest, even if they’re critical, more than those who tell them what they want to hear. Ray was so inspired by what he’d seen during his weekend coursework that he decided to apply it in his meeting with this big-wig client.
Rather than glossing over some of the harsher truths about how the client was operating, he went in straight-forward and laid it out on the table. He told the client exactly what his observations were about the business—what was working and what wasn’t.
He later related to us that he was absolutely terrified while he was doing it. Like many top dogs, this client was used to hearing people kiss up and tell him what he wanted to hear. He wasn’t as used to the harsh truths and honesty that Ray was handing to him. But lo and behold, the client absolutely appreciated the honesty. In fact, he thanked Ray right there on the spot.
Years later, their professional relationship was still going strong. In fact, this client trusted Ray more than any other consultants that he worked with and their work relationship formed into a friendship. The client often contacts Ray for personal advice and more—why? Because he trusts Ray to be an authentic, integrous person.
Dr. Tony Simons of Cornell University discussed the need for integrity in leadership in the hospitality industry. In his research, he discovered that integrity is one of, if not the most critical leadership skill that can lead to an actual bottom-line business return; he refers to as the “integrity dividend.” What’s more, the value of integrity is actually very high. Honest leaders that display integrity and authenticity in their interactions are rare, and thus highly prized.
Leaders who actually do what they say they’re going to do and who follow through with their plans are trusted by their employees, coworkers, and clients. As a result, their companies perform better financially. There is truly a payout for operating with integrity, honesty, and authenticity.
Authenticity is one of the most important variables in leadership. When researchers Bass and Riggio did their study of transformational leadership, they discovered that there were universal characteristics of transformational leaders.
Transformational leaders have a vision. They are able to articulate and share their vision with those they work with. They have a clear idea of where they’re headed and how they plan to get there. In each situation, they’re working toward a larger vision.
Transformational leaders care about each individual they lead, and those individuals feel that care and know it exists. It’s easy to say, “I care about my coworkers,” but how many of our team members really feel that care? How many of them know how much you truly care about them?
Most importantly, transformational leaders walk their talk. This means they’re genuine. They understand what it means to be authentic and to act with integrity. They’re honest and truthful. They face up to their mistakes, admit them and learn from them. They’re accepting of themselves and of others. They really live and practice what they preach.
Those who work with and under transformational leaders are less likely to suffer from stress. Transformational leaders have excellent team-building skills and this sense of comradery and unity benefits the entire group. The group is able to build off strengths and easily overcome challenges. Best of all, both the transformational leaders and those who worked with them experienced greater job satisfaction and happiness.
The good news about transformational leadership is that each of us can display these traits. We don’t need to be in a c-level position to be authentic. We can engage, connect with others, and lead from any position and in any role.
Whether we’re displaying authenticity at work or at home, the concept is the same—we must be true to ourselves and our vision. We must be honest with ourselves and honest with those around us.
Authenticity becomes the primary variable in transformational leadership and one of the most important qualities of a leader, but this isn’t limited to our work lives. Yes, work is often where we think of leadership qualities and skills as being important, but we are still the same person at the end of the day. We don’t change when we go out the door to our 9-5.
Many people may believe they have a separate “work personality” or that their work personality is separate from their home life, but the truth is we’re the same person at work and at home.
One of the biggest illusions that people operate under is “that’s not really me.” The “me” people like to deny at work is the me that has authority issues. At home, we tend not to feel or identify the same authority issues, so we think that we’re different. This perception is really an illusion.
If you’re not integrous at work, you’re probably not integrous at home. At home, you get to go on “autopilot” but are you really up-to-date and present with your spouse? Are you operating with honesty? Are you holding back out of fear or a desire not to rock the boat?
It’s similar to our feelings of holding back at work. We’re afraid of rocking the boat or being honest because we don’t want to lose our job. We go through the motions-working to make money—but failing to fully engage and embrace our role with honesty and authenticity.
In all situations, authenticity and honesty will lead to stronger connections and leadership. While we may not think of transformational leadership as something we can display outside of the office, it’s a universal skill in all aspects of our lives—work, home, socially, and beyond.
Living honest, authentic lives where we’re true to ourselves and others will result in bigger dividends across the board. If you want to live a richer, fuller, more powerful life, commit to operating with authenticity and genuineness.
For more ways to find fulfillment and joy in your life, please visit us at the Wright Foundation. Join us for an upcoming networking event where you’ll connect with others on their transformational journey. Go forth and ignite your world by living up to your fullest potential.
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The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.