Authentic Leaders build trust, reduce turnover and ignite passion

Employees quit leaders, not their jobs.

In a March 2019 HBR article Dacia J. Faison Roe (When a Top Performer Wants to Leave, Should You Try to Stop Them?) says that when employees are “valued as people, not just workers, it has positive effects that ripple through the rest of the team and beyond.” Furthermore, according to a 2015 Gallup study*, “employees who feel as though their manager is invested in them as people are more likely to be engaged” in their work, behaviour that’s strongly connected to business outcomes like productivity, innovation, and profitability.

Jesse Sostrin, the author of Beyond the Job Description: How Managers and Employees Can Navigate the True Demands of the Job, says that the primary lens through which most people seem to evaluate their ability to remain in a job with their organization is the quality of their direct relationship with their supervisor. “People do not leave organizations to seek out other opportunities because of communication, leadership, or culture. They leave because of what communication, leadership, and culture make or do not make in their experience at work.”

Why does authentic leadership create a great employee experience at work? Being an authentic leader requires courage and authenticity. Much literature exists about authentic leadership and the leadership qualities that emerge when a company experiences serious challenges. This is when true-self leadership appears.

Bill George, in his book True North, describes authentic leadership as leading with heart and passion. Indeed, some of the best leaders I have met lead with heart and passion – what you see is what you get.

The 3 Leadership qualities of authentic leaders:

Authentic Leaders are servant and humble leaders, they take accountability seriously, and their integrity is always above question. Authentic leaders lead through influence and not through positional power. Leading with power is to lead through position and titles. But leading with influence is to lead through impact and engagement.

Servant Leadership

Being authentic and leading in service and humility requires the following:

An ability to listen. It is critical you listen to what people have to say. Ask questions and listen carefully to what your customers, employees, colleagues, and stakeholders are saying. Listening provides you with different perspectives. Being open and receptive to other points of view will help you make balanced and sound decisions.

Practice Empathy. It is the ability to put yourself in another person’s position to get a better understanding of their circumstances. You must make the health and welfare of your employees, customers, and stakeholders a priority.

Authentic leaders are compassionate leaders. To be compassionate means not only having empathy for someone else, but it’s also the desire to help them. Leaders purposefully try to make someone else’s life easier by resolving some of their problems. Compassion goes a long way towards relieving some of the burdens people feel, which ultimately creates a healthier business environment.

Accountable Leadership

 Authentic leaders are accountable leaders. There is no blame game in their leadership style. As a business leader, you remain accountable and responsible for the results of the business – the profit, loss and future success. Accountability means you know the buck stops with you. As an authentic leader, you are accountable to yourself, your stakeholders and your employees. What did you plan to achieve and what have you delivered? Be honest about your delivery. It is easy to find excuses, blame extenuating circumstance or even shift the blame to someone else. If the results are not delivered, you must take full ownership.

Integrity above all else

What defines a senior leader’s integrity? What would employees describe as a leader with integrity? Firstly, their values. Do you know what your values are? Do you uphold them no matter what? Does your business also have a clearly defined value system, and does it stick to it? It is easy to compromise on values when you are under pressure, or a quick short-term win could be gained. But compromising on values is never a good idea and may have long-lasting negative repercussions.

Secondly, their commitment. Stick to the task. Senior executives often underestimate the amount of time, energy and oversight required to see a successful assignment or transformation process through. It is often far more comfortable to design a strategy than it is to implement and execute it successfully. Commitment means staying on course despite difficulties and seeing the task through to completion.

Lastly, Consistency. Employees work well under a consistent leader. They appreciate consistency in decision-making processes, as they know what to expect and where they stand. Even if a decision is not popular or causes difficulty, the fact it is consistent will go a long way towards garnering employee support.

Authentic leaders are not focused on instant gratification or instant results. They are in it for the long haul, and their decisions reflect this. Authentic leaders understand the value of introspection and feedback. They remain teachable in their approach and are open to advice and constructive criticism.

*The Advice for Leaders report provides an in-depth look at what characterizes great managers based on over four decades of extensive talent research. It is an extensive study of 2.5 million manager-led teams in 195 countries, featuring analysis that measures the engagement of 27 million employees. The report examines the crucial link among talent, engagement and vital business outcomes, including profitability and productivity.