I recently had the honor of giving the keynote address to the Graduating Class of 2017 Advanced Management Program at IE. This program is aimed at experienced executives who are preparing themselves for a transition to general management or to positions of broader responsibilities.
As I looked out at the faces of these new graduates, I saw a certain readiness in each and every one to move on to the next promising new chapter in their careers, one in which leadership skills will play a key role. At the time – in fact that very same day – I had completed the first draft of my new book, Yours Truly. And so, my message to them came easily: it is important to stay true to your authentic self in leadership and life. We can only succeed when we listen to ourselves and lead from within.
Here’s are some points from what I said that morning:
Let’s face it, the trust gap between leaders and followers is widening. So, I believe that the most pressing challenge facing leaders like you today is how to gain trust and respect from your subordinates.
Data from the Edelman’s Trust Barometer in 2017 across 28 countries shows that credibility of leadership is in crisis. Respondents reported trust in CEOs at 37% and trust in government officials at 29%. Trust levels in CEOs at 37% represent a decline of 6 points with respect to 2015, and a decline of 15 points with respect to 2011.
Lack of authenticity lies at the heart of this crisis of confidence. Thus, we need a radical change in leadership, a move from the big-ego leaders to more authentic leaders Today, the need for authenticity and authentic leadership is easy to understand: authentic leaders give the people around them a sense of control and agency over their collective future that enables them to feel better about themselves and what they are doing, sparking change and transformation.
Kevin Johnson, who recently replaced the much-lauded Howard Schultz as CEO of Starbucks, gave a good example of the importance of being authentic:
“I can’t try to be Howard. This is why I think authenticity is so important. Rather than me feel like I have to try to be someone I’m not, I’m going to try to be me. And in doing that, I think I can get the best out of others.”
I have three pieces of advice, my 3 Hs of authentic leadership:
- Heart: To engage employees with your vision, you must first look in your heart to find your passion. My studies show that when we feel authentic and passionate, we feel less stress and are more satisfied with our own lives – and from this place, it is much easier to get others to see from your perspective.
- Habit: Authenticity and change go hand in hand. Authentic leaders reinvent themselves and stay in control of their own destiny. You need to make learning a habit. When we are open to honest feedback, we can more fully engage with our employees – and both sides can grow in the process.
- Harmony: Authentic leaders find harmony in being true to their own interests and to others. For example, many of the leaders I have interviewed are concerned about the welfare of their employees and the environment. And a recent study I conducted shows that the positive attitude of “happy employees” in authentic organizations increased sales over a three-year period.