Advice on Demonstrating Authenticity in Leadership

July 18, 2021By Views

By Dave Wendland, for Forbes Agency Council, as appeared on June 17, 2021

Much has been written about leadership traits and styles. In fact, a Google search for the term “leadership” yields more than 2 billion results. And when you specify “authentic leadership,” you get more than 100 million results, including scholarly articles, lists of traits and articles containing how-to advice. Largely influenced by the events of the last 15 months, I elected to approach the topic from the standpoint of a commitment to authenticity.

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines trust as “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.” Seeing a direct correlation between trust and authenticity, I dug deeper, and I came to the conclusion that authenticity is judged by how you behave, how you communicate and how you serve your stakeholders and customers. At Hamacher Resource Group, our mission statement is “to serve as a trusted resource partner to our customers, our community and our co-workers.” If our actions do not support this statement, then we become inauthentic.

I recently hosted an executive roundtable, and we identified these actions as 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.

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 to the organization. Such compassion begins with remaining in tune with each member of the organization.

Showing empathy requires a keen sense of awareness. I believe the best way to achieve this is to listen to understand, not merely to hear.

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.

Final Thoughts

Although authentic actions are often imperfect, they are always honest. Simon Sinek wrote, “Great leaders don’t see themselves as great; they see themselves as human.” I believe this should be the basis for an authentic leader’s actions.