Building Trust in Your Team by Bringing Your Authentic Self to the Workplace
“Authentic leadership is the full expression of ‘me’ for the benefit of ‘we’.”
– Henna Inam, CEO of Transformational Leadership Inc.
Are you bringing your authentic self to your workplace? Being truly authentic and genuine requires the removal of the “professional shield” many of us bring to work. Societal norms tell us there’s a particular way we must behave, think, speak and present ourselves in a professional environment. This makes sense to an extent – of course we might not talk to a manager at work exactly the same way we’d speak with a close friend or family member. So how can we be genuine and authentic while maintaining an appropriate level of professionalism? And why is it important to bring your authentic self to your workplace?
Authenticity in leaders – in anyone, for that matter – translates to honesty, meaning those around you feel like you are worthy of their trust. Given the unpredictability and extra stress brought on by the pandemic, team members perceiving leaders as being genuine, honest and human can bring a sense of much-needed comfort. In psychologically safe and healthy work environments, employees trust and feel connected to their co-workers and leaders.
One of the ways authenticity can be lost is when our interactions with co-workers become rote and synthetic. For example, the question “How are you?” has become, for many, a social nicety that's lost much of its meaning. Most of the time when we pose this question or reply to it, there’s not a lot of thought involved. We’re not asking because we really want an honest answer, and when asked our knee-jerk response is “Fine, thanks, and yourself?” without actually considering the question. Healthy communication is a cornerstone of a psychologically healthy work environment, so it’s important to mean what you say and say what you mean. When you ask someone how they’re doing, be mindful of your tone of voice, facial expression and body language. Deliver the question in a way that invites a genuine response. This small example can set a tone in the workplace that it’s ok to have bad days, it’s ok to be honest and real, and it’s ok to offer and accept support from others when it’s needed.
Authentic leaders aren’t afraid of others finding out that they’re human and capable of making mistakes. One of the challenges many of my clients have consistently expressed during the pandemic has been the discomfort and sometimes even incompetence leaders are feeling because they don’t have concrete answers for staff: How much longer will this go on? Are there going to be lay-offs? Once there’s a vaccine, can our organization go back to doing ‘X-Y-Z’? Most leaders are accustomed to having answers to questions and right now there are endless unknowns. This sometimes prompts a line of thinking that in order to be good leaders, we should “fake it ‘til we make it” and come up with answers for the purpose of providing comfort to our team members. In the extreme circumstances we find ourselves in with respect to COVID-19, there are simply lots of things nobody can answer. Honesty usually ends up being more comforting than anything else. If you don’t know, say you don’t know. When you can’t reassure someone with a concrete answer being honest at least reassures them that you’re a trustworthy leader, which holds more value in the long-term than any answer you could have given.
On the flip side of the authenticity coin, feeling you have to adopt a workplace persona that’s significantly different from who you really are tends to be mentally draining. Feeling like you have to be “on” all the time is exhausting. We all wear different “hats” depending on the role we’re playing and the context (e.g. workplace role vs. spouse vs. parent vs. acquaintance) but when done to an extreme it takes a toll on our mental health and can even prompt significant psychological challenges related to our sense of identity and self worth. Bringing your authentic self to work each day is good for you, for your team members and for the culture of your workplace. When leaders are real, it inspires others to put their guard down and bring their real selves to work as well. Inspire authenticity at work by inviting others to be themselves and by modeling it yourself. The more relaxed, supportive, engaged team that will result from your efforts will thank you for it.
Thanks for reading!
Elizabeth Eldridge is a Psychological Health & Safety Consultant based in southern New Brunswick, Canada. In addition to keynote speaking and corporate training on workplace mental health she is the owner/operator of Arpeggio Health Services, Atlantic Canada’s largest provider of public mental health trainings. Learn more at elizabetheldridge.com, summitcorporatewellness.com and arpeggiohealthservices.com.