Authenticity: A Powerful Trait for CEOs and Business Leaders
The image of the chief executive officer (CEO) has frequently been synonymous with elitism. There’s been a toxic tradition of detachment, of leadership that places itself above employees and is beyond criticism. However, true leaders in industry know that this does not reflect the attitudes of the best or most effective CEOs.
Some of the best business minds know that the role of CEO is just another part of a bigger machine and certainly no more important than any of the other contributing elements. Today, we’re seeing more CEOs trying to break down those tired old barriers and demonstrating their humanity — they’re people with flaws, hopes, and values. Increasingly, we find that placing a focus on authenticity features among the best advice from top entrepreneurs. Business leaders need to approach every aspect of their enterprise with a sense of honesty and integrity.
So why is authenticity such a powerful trait for CEOs to exhibit? What is the best way to approach applying integrity to various aspects of business leadership, in a way that is both effective and agile? Let’s take a closer look at a few key areas of focus.
If authenticity is key to success, then transparency is what makes this honesty a sustainable trait. While many businesses will have their secrets and intellectual property that have to be protected, there still needs to be a sense of openness toward staff and customers alike. When you start applying this approach to the majority of activities, you’ll find that transparency can affect your growth and your relationships with all stakeholders.
This has to begin with your day-to-day actions. There should be a clear demonstration that you’re maintaining the same high corporate, personal, and operational standards that you expect of your employees. Show how the way you go about your tasks adheres to the code of conduct that has been set out for all staff. Be clear about what events you are handling or social lunches you are attending, and how these specifically relate to company success, rather than a perk on the business’ dime.
Transparency helps to build trust between CEOs, staff, and other stakeholders such as customers and the community. Aaron Levie, the CEO of Box — a cloud enterprise company — operates a system in which every member of the business is invited to upload their set of objectives and key results to a central system. This means that everybody gets the opportunity to engage in an open forum on how everyone, including the CEO, is performing. This also gives the impression that there is no sense of exceptionalism. Everyone is striving toward transparent goals that have the potential to benefit the business, and everybody is equally open about how they do this. This helps to show that, as a CEO, you believe that sharing vital information is a key step in keeping everybody motivated and accountable.
Interactions and Collaboration
Authenticity shouldn’t only be present in your independent activities as a CEO. Rather, it needs to be a core aspect of your interactions and collaborations with all those who contribute to the business. An entrepreneur who demonstrates effectively that they consider it vital to make genuine connections with their employees is one that transitions from being an executive to being a leader.
There are several useful approaches to this, including:
- Contribute to Issues. While your business is high on your agenda, it’s important to remember that employees and the community have other interests and priorities. As part of your strides toward authenticity, it’s important to get to know what these are and provide forums through which the company can both support and get involved with them. Provide meaningful contributions toward their charitable causes; give them time and space to make presentations that help inform and educate others.
- Employee Development. Take a genuine interest in the personal and professional growth of each of your employees. One of the key traits of leadership is taking a nurturing approach to encouraging rising talent. Take the time to give positive reinforcement toward the efforts, and personally provide opportunities to help them expand their skill set.
- Seek Feedback. An authentic approach to business is one that shows that the CEO is not exceptional, but a part of the team. As a result, it's important to provide opportunities for employees of all levels to engage in an open dialogue with those at the highest levels of the company. Actively seek their contributions — not just through surveys, but have conversations with them. Follow up by inviting those employees to join key meetings.
One of the primary contributors to ensuring that your role as CEO is authentic is through a focus on personal and corporate ethics. Many companies today are keen to improve their industry and community standing through the implementation of corporate social responsibility. Dan Amos, CEO of Aflac — recipient of multiple Ethisphere World’s Most Ethical Companies awards — posits that businesses can’t be socially responsible while behaving unethically. Therefore CEOs must strive to constantly apply their companies’ ethics.
This is particularly important when something goes wrong. There may be times in which business activities or behavior of employees falls short of your strong ethical standards. As a CEO who exudes authenticity, you must be front and center whenever this happens. This is particularly important if employees’ legal rights have been breached — whether due to something as destructive as discrimination or simple failure to adhere to family leave requirements. This is a failure of trust and must be approached authentically.
CEOs must take responsibility as the head of the company, and not just address it as an individual wrongdoing. Acknowledge how this also can have a detrimental effect on all staff. Discuss how changes will be made to keep employee’s rights a priority for the business, and what steps will be taken to prevent repeat mistakes. It is an unfortunate fact that things will occasionally go wrong; it’s how you respond to them that can demonstrate your value as an authentic leader.
Being a CEO that embodies authenticity can have a positive effect on your business’ success. Seek to be transparent in all activities, engage meaningfully with your employees, and maintain strong ethical standards. The efforts you make to be genuine with all stakeholders — from colleagues to the community — reflects your value as an industry leader.
Guest post courtesy of Noah Rue