Authenticity: The Smart Approach for a Growing Company
You’re the guy in charge. You need to show everyone that you have all the answers. That’s what they expect, right?
Think about people you’ve respected in your life, perhaps a teacher or a grandparent. Why did you feel that way? Was it because they had all the answers, or was it because they could admit when they didn’t know something and were willing to work with you to explore options and find answers together? How energizing was it to learn together or perhaps to even find the solution BEFORE your respected elder could uncover it?
What about that boss who always tried to prove how great he was? He knew everything, or at least he wanted you to think that. But you weren’t fooled and in fact you worked hard to avoid meeting him in the hallways. Who wants to be around a person like that? If he wasn’t the supervisor, no one would follow him. You couldn’t wait to PROVE him wrong.
The Right Culture for a Growing Company
Authenticity, speaking the truth – even the painful, embarrassing truth – is how you earn trust. This isn’t easy, but it takes less energy than keeping up with all the little white lies and shades of gray you otherwise force into your words and actions to keep people from seeing and knowing the real you. Do you have a work persona that differs from ‘the real you?’ Have you thought about why that is? If not, it’s time to do so.
Being authentic also means “walking the talk.” People - your people - watch you and if your words and actions don’t match, it’s your actions they believe. Did you follow-up as promised? Every time? Did you listen when they spoke to you, or were you multi-tasking?
How do you act when you don’t think anyone ‘important’ is watching? Do you exhibit the same behavior in front of your banker, your pastor, and your children? For that matter, is there any individual in your business who isn’t important? [If so, perhaps you have too many employees.] Everyone contributes to the bottom line and as leaders; we want everyone’s contribution to be maximized.
We have to earn the trust of our employees, before they'll give us their 110%. Being trustworthy is part of the investment we must make. That 110% is the same as providing “Discretionary Effort” in the words of Bill Callette and Richard Hadden. [Check them out at contentedcows.com ] We want our employees, when given a choice, to choose to do more for the company rather than less. If they won’t put in that little bit of extra effort - if they aren’t excited to come work with you every day - if they don’t believe you - then it’s only a matter of time before they begin working against you instead of for you.
A Trusted Decision Process
Doug Tatum, Chairman of The Newport Board Group, offers a succinct and powerful definition of culture in his best selling book, No Man’s Land: When Growing Companies Fail:
A clear and successful pattern of decision-making defines a firm’s culture. Yet such a pattern is also essential to maintaining momentum within that culture. After all, it’s very difficult to feel a sense of forward motion if decisions seem capricious and irrational, or if employees have only an ambiguous sense of what a firm is trying to accomplish. In setting up shop, most entrepreneurs intuitively establish a set of company objectives, and in turn personally become the very center of the decision-making process. As layers of management are added and the model is scaled up, the risk is that the firm’s original values, sense of mission, and visionary voices will be lost. The entrepreneur’s and the new outside manager’s challenge within No Man’s Land is thus to think more consciously about the firm’s culture, and to take steps to clarify, simplify, and build confidence in the company’s decision-making process.
Confidence is a by-product of predictability. A trusted decision process builds a culture where employees can trust and build confidence in their leadership’s authenticity.
We all know that most of the time employees really do have a choice. If they don’t trust you as their leader, they won’t follow where you lead and you’ll be lucky to get 50% of their energy. If you're authentic and your actions are genuine, your inner circle and your employees will gain confidence in you and trust you. That integrity will become the platform that your organization needs to sustain them in tough times and launch them to new highs as you build other leadership strengths.
For now, work on being authentic. Everyone can tell when you’re faking – you’re only fooling yourself.
Kim Denney, Partner Newport Board Group
Authenticity image credit: bicyclism