The word authenticity comes up often in discussions about developing leaders, though real authenticity can be hard to find in many leaders we meet. To be sure, most successful leaders have learned to appear authentic, except that when talking to close confidants behind closed doors, it becomes clear that what the public is seeing is often pseudo-authenticity. The reality, though rarely visible at first blush, is that genuine authenticity can be sensed, as can pretense.
Over many years’ experience with different clients and executives, there is one common element that stands out for me on this subject: genuinely authentic executives rarely work in companies that do not value this attribute. The result is that a company will have many such executives or else have few of them, if any. This is important because authenticity at and near the top sets and shapes a culture of broad trust. It is easy to collaborate and trust if you know that your colleagues are doing likewise. Conversely, it is easy not to trust where you see inauthenticity and secret agendas among leadership.
So here’s the bottom line. It is critical to place authenticity at the top of the list of leadership competencies. It is also critical to recognize that, if real authenticity is not present today, it will take some very heavy – and very worthwhile — lifting to change this. This effort will pay big dividends over time in increased employee trust and engagement and in shaping a culture that is the centerpiece of a valuable internal brand.