Authentic leadership is key in our new world of work.
Early in the pandemic, John Krasinski, the former star of The Office, started a project called “Some Good News.” He’d film videos at his house, in front of a sign his daughters drew, sharing feel-good stories to brighten the mood of the millions of people living through lockdowns. It was a charmingly amateurish effort from a big-name star, and fans responded warmly.
Many of those fans felt betrayed when Krasinski announced in May 2020 that he’d sold the show to CBS. One fan summed up the reaction on Twitter: “So he made 8 YouTube videos comprised largely of unpaid contributions from fans, sold the brand to a major conglomerate, and isn’t even going to make it anymore?”
Why did the fans react so negatively to this news? After all, Krasinski is a major Hollywood star who already has business relationships with huge production companies. As he explained, his schedule wouldn’t allow him to continue the series for long anyway—why shouldn’t he sell the brand and its subscribers to a company that could keep it going?
I believe the answer lies in the “Some Good News” project itself. It was simple and homemade and felt like an honest expression of feelings many people were grappling with at the time. To turn around and sell it made many fans feel like it had never really been about sharing human stories—it had always been about building a brand and making a profit.
As leaders, most of us don’t have the high profile someone like Krasinski does. But we’d be wise to remember that trust is the foundation of everything we do at work. Without trust, we can’t build community, connect with our coworkers, or build a healthy organizational culture.
And without authentic leadership —a perceived match between what you say and what you do—people instinctively feel they can’t trust you.
WHY IT MATTERS:
Many of the things we used to use as substitutes for community and connection at work are being stripped away. What’s left? I believe it’s authenticity.
As our relationship to our work changes in a hybrid world, what we value about community and connection at work is also changing. After all, if you don’t necessarily have to be at the office at all, wouldn’t you rather have pizza Friday with your friends or family than with your coworkers? And yet we still crave that connection—we just don’t want to have to commute to get it.
We’re remaking the way we work right now. Everything is in flux. As a leader, you can’t count on old habits leftover from pre-pandemic times to keep people happy with the status quo. Your employees are questioning everything about how and why work fits into their lives. Your answer to the question, “Why should I stay?” has to be stronger than “For the paycheck.”
In this unsettled environment, authentic leadership is the strongest glue we have left to tie our teams and cultures together. Real, honest connections will always be stronger than forced bonding activities or insincere platitudes about being a team.
Authentic leadership encourages everyone to open up and be more genuine.
Throughout the pandemic, those of us who’ve worked remotely have gotten glimpses into our coworkers’ real lives. We’ve seen each other’s living rooms, cats, and kids in the background of our Zooms.
In strong organizational cultures, this has been refreshing, and has helped people build stronger connections with colleagues. People have felt a sense of relief that they can be real. They’ve asked “How are you?” and actually listened to the answer.
In weaker cultures, people likely felt pressure to hide the realities of working from home. They felt like they had to be available for meetings at all times, regardless of whether or not their kids were at home. The pressure to pretend made people feel increasingly disconnected from their colleagues, instead of drawing them closer together.
What makes the difference between connection and alienation? Leaders set the tone. And just like your mother always told you, actions speak louder words. If you as a leader go first and allow yourself to be (appropriately) open and honest about the challenges and rewards of working from home, your team will follow.
During episode 4 of my Lead the Future podcast, Wayne Monteith shared an incredible example of the kind of results that come from leading authentically.
WHAT TO PAY ATTENTION TO:
Seek out feedback on your authenticity and consistency.
- It’s important to understand how you come across. Get feedback from peers you trust, from your supervisor, or solicit anonymous feedback from your direct reports. Ask for honest comments on your authenticity. Are you perceived as an honest and trustworthy leader?
- The first step towards building trust with colleagues is always competence. You have to be perceived as doing your job and delivering on your promises. If people see you as someone who makes excuses or ducks responsibility, they’ll never trust you.
- Doing the hard work of leadership and holding your team accountable is also key to establishing trust. Just as people want to be able to trust you to follow through on what you’ve promised to deliver, they want to be able to rely on you to see that the whole team can be relied on. And that’s your responsibility as a leader.
Do you have the courage to be truly authentic?Gut Check for Leaders
- “Your team has to trust you”: leading by example to build trust in leadership with Wayne Monteith
- Building a high-trust community in the age of hybrid work
- How to be more authentic at work
- Be yourself, but carefully
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