Honesty is the best policy - the importance of authenticity in leadership

Written by
Peter Lowe

25 Jul 2017

25 Jul 2017 • by Peter Lowe

Business, like sport, is not immune to pressure. High performers might say they thrive on it. Interestingly, it’s not the pressure itself that is the issue, it’s how people react to it. For some, pressure has a fear response and fear manifests itself in all sorts of guises - such as anger, negativity and finger pointing. What was once a seemingly calm and perfectly pleasant person can morph into an unrecognisable tyrant if they allow pressure to trigger an erratic emotional response.

However, if pressure is embraced it can act as a catalyst. You can’t choose to be one person when things are all going marvellously and then wear a devil’s head when the stakes are raised. That simply breeds mistrust and it unnerves people. It also means people don’t feel supported and they are on edge as they can expect a ‘jellyfish sting’ from any angle should the tide turn.

Do as I say AND as I do

Let’s face it, we’ve all had a boss who presents a case of mistaken identity. They talk as if they have written the handbook of best practice, yet their actions somehow don’t quite add up. The boss who says he or she is a ‘people person’ yet is curiously absent from all team socials, or the ‘grafter’ who loiters by the exit when the pressure is on to work late for a deadline….I could go on. The fact is that any disconnect between words and deeds can be spotted at twenty paces. And once the team gets wind of the merest whiff of disingenuity, there’s an awful lot of work to do to regain trust.

Team player

You can scrutinise it as much as you like, but from where I’m standing there is absolutely no ‘I’ in the proverbial team. Leaders who constantly seek personal validation have another agenda and their first priority is the one they see in the mirror. The most powerful leaders are those who remain focused entirely on the team, who share the glory and shoulder the pain as one. As Mia Hamm quite rightly said: “I am a member of a team, and I rely on the team, I defer to it and sacrifice for it, because the team, not the individual, is the champion.”

Motives and intentions

People are the lifeblood of organisations so it stands to reason that personal values transcend brands. A leader must always examine his or her motives and intentions, which are inextricably linked to values. I always say that sustained success is built on a solid leadership culture - the architecture around which the standard of performance is established. Strong leaders develop transparent dos and don’ts which are clearly communicated and understood by the whole team.

I disagree with people who say ‘leave your problems at the door.’ People bring their whole selves to their careers and that means acknowledging that we are inherently emotional beings. We might be able to present a facade but this is only skin deep and, if you really know someone you’ll sense there is a problem in their behaviour through any conscious or unconscious signals they put out. While I quote the term ‘know your team’ pretty much every day, I still believe that this is the backbone for success as, only when you really know someone, can you understand what to expect of them and how to enable them to realise their full potential

What makes an authentic leader?

Authentic leaders have the following key traits:

  • They are consistent in their actions and behaviour

  • They remain humble even at the height of success and they don’t take the glory

  • They’re not afraid to admit when they get it wrong, and they’re quick to learn from their mistakes

  • They help others to become leaders and know when to step up and when to stand back

  • They care about investing in their team and recognise that they need supporting and developing

  • They are always able to see the bigger picture

  • They have a conscience

I used to treat the walls of the changing room as a mirror and at half or full time I would ask myself: “Have I worked hard enough and taken responsibility?” Self scrutiny isn’t always comfortable but it’s an absolute necessity if you want to look back and call yourself a leader with integrity and authenticity.