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5 tips to help leaders make 2020 their most authentic year yet

3 Jan 2020

Catherine Corcoran, head of management consulting at RSM Ireland, explores the ‘critical role’ management plays in leading with authenticity.

As we say goodbye to 2019 and prepare to enter a new year and a whole new decade, now is the perfect opportunity to re-evaluate your leadership style.

As the world of work changes rapidly, becoming more agile, diverse and inclusive, it has never been more important for employers to promote an organisational culture that is built on trust and transparency and encourages employees to be their authentic selves at work. This is even more important in organisations where people are working remotely, in global teams, with colleagues spread across several continents.

For both small businesses and large multinationals, authenticity has been shown to have positive effects on employee performance, engagement and job satisfaction. However, for many people, being told to ‘be ourselves’ at work can be a daunting prospect. The pressure to fit in with colleagues and the work culture often results in employees hiding their true selves.

A professional woman is smiling into the camera in an outdoors setting.

Catherine Corcoran, head of management consulting at RSM Ireland. Image: Jason Clarke Photography

These five tips can help managers to bring their best, most authentic selves to work and help others do the same.

1. Role modelling authenticity

Authenticity is staying true to who you are, what you do and who you serve, ensuring that your behaviour matches your intentions. Managed properly, it creates value and benefits for your employees as well as delivering business outcomes.

Management plays a critical role in leading with authenticity, weaving it into the workplace by setting a good example to others. Being authentic is not about being­­­­ perfect, but about remaining loyal to your values and following your own inner compass. It’s about connecting with others, which, in turn, increases their effectiveness.

Set a clear mission and behavioural values for your team members. Critical thinking, collaboration, caring, courage and curiosity are the key behavioural values that underpin authenticity.

2. Have trust, but also hold employees to account

At all levels, being your authentic self and allowing yourself to be known helps to build trust in the workplace. As a manager, establishing relationships based on trust and personal connection is even more important. Be transparent and maintain open lines of communication, especially during challenging times, ensuring that people know where they stand. Give your staff a voice and invite others to input into decisions and departmental goals.

Creating shared team goals and reminding your team of the bigger picture helps to build trust. Trust that your team members will follow through on their responsibilities. Encourage ownership and hold your team members accountable for the delivery of results. Highlight how each individual contribution impacts the performance of the organisation.

3. Lead by conversations

An authentic workplace is one in which employees feel that their voice is heard when decisions are made that directly impact their work. This has the effect of increasing employees’ sense of ownership, which in turn increases levels of engagement.

In a position of power, it’s important to welcome varying opinions that are different to your own. Adopting a constructive approach to debates demonstrates to your team that their opinions are valued and respected.

4. Ensure policies are lived in a fair, consistent and transparent way

HR policies and procedures support employers in delivering a first-class authentic employment experience. Policies themselves are lifeless documents, which need to be brought to life by meaningful, real-time conversation – a ‘policies behind, people first’ approach facilitates employers to deliver employee experience while maximising performance.

The central issue for leaders is balancing the need for order in the workplace and the human need for freedom, ensuring that the workforce have the freedom the speak, freedom to actualise, and self-autonomy over their own work. It’s important to be transparent and implement policies in a consistent and impartial manner in order to foster a positive, authentic culture in the workplace.

5. Balance the wellbeing of the individual with the needs of the business

Leaders are in a unique position to promote the collective wellbeing of the organisation. The challenge here lies in finding an equilibrium between ensuring employees are happy and thriving, while also achieving the goals of the organisation.

It’s important to support self-autonomy among your team members. Give them the freedom to organise tasks in a way that best suits them. Ensure that robust governance systems are in place that allow employees to solve any issues that may arise.

An authentic workplace is one in which everyone is encouraged to contribute to their fullest potential. In a position of power, it’s vital to support high levels of personal development for those that you manage. When people are able to connect the purpose of their organisation to their purpose as individuals, they are happier and more engaged at work.

A new year means new beginnings – and new resolutions. So, as we head into 2020, take the time to reflect on the changes you can make to become a more authentic leader.


By Catherine Corcoran

Catherine Corcoran is the head of management consulting at RSM Ireland. She has more than three decades of experience in senior management and HR roles and is a specialist in corporate governance.

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