Few CEOs ever inspired the loyalty of employees the way Herb Kelleher did at Southwest Airlines. He dressed in costumes at company parties, danced with employees, sold tickets at the airline counter, and handed out peanuts on board the plane. People revered him because he was authentic.
His recent passing was a reminder of how important authenticity and transparency are to leadership. Many people are confident moving up to a managerial role because of their extensive knowledge and experience, but then they suddenly realize they need something more: leadership ability. Unsure what to do, they search for role models to imitate, when the more effective route is to be authentic. Don’t try to be someone you are not. Employees will quickly be suspicious.
Being authentic means being sincere, ethical, and transparent, qualities found in the most effective and admired managers. Authentic leaders are transparent, honestly sharing all the information their team and others need. They also are candid about their own interests their values, and desires. Sharing builds trust, an important element of credibility, and without credibility, you cannot influence an audience. If you’re not honest, candid, and trustworthy, employees will not view you as credible.
Transparency was once thought of in the context of the full disclosure of financial information, but today’s employees are demanding transparency in the distribution of all information. In an age when it is difficult, often impossible, to hide information for long, transparency is a valuable character trait, although it is scarce in corporate leadership.
Here are four ways you can demonstrate authenticity and transparency:
Keep your promises — If you say you will collaborate when making decisions and then you plan a project by yourself and ask everyone to support it, you are not being transparent. Words are not enough; leaders must “walk the talk,” because when actions do not match the words, employees will pay closer attention to the actions.
Provide information – When you pretend you don’t know or don’t have certain information when you actually do, you are not being transparent, and you are not perceived as authentic. Transparency is not easy in most corporate cultures, where people tend to guard information. Explain your rationale and reasoning behind decisions. Don’t announce a decision and suggest that you’re not elaborating because you don’t need to; you’re the boss.
Deliver specific feedback – When an employee performs well, don’t provide minimal or no feedback. Give detailed and descriptive input. For example, it is nice to compliment someone on their writing, but it is more meaningful to say specifically why the writing is good and why you liked it.
Let them know you failed – Share a story or two about times that you failed and then recovered. That teaches them how to react to failure and learn from it, and it is humanizing; they will respect you for your candor.
Being authentic is essential to effective leadership, but it is not an innate quality. You need to establish your authenticity and then continually strengthen it, which can mean learning how to adapt your behavior or language to the situation, so that you are effective and you make a strong impression. The effort is worthwhile. Employees will not follow someone they don’t believe in.