How do you prove you’re genuinely authentic, especially in the current business environment? This might sound silly, but it’s a common conundrum for executives.
At its core, authenticity is about being relatable. When the people you lead feel like you’ve been through the same experiences they face — like working from home with kids — it fosters deeper connections and makes you more trustworthy.
Unfortunately, becoming more relatable doesn’t come naturally to everyone in the C-suite, and the added obstacle of leading from home doesn’t help. We can’t all be like Apple CEO Tim Cook, who openly discusses his weaknesses and takes responsibility for the company’s missteps. Some may consider this kind of behavior a sign of vulnerability or weakness, but that line of thinking is precisely what makes most executives seem so unapproachable.
According to a 2018 report by Edelman, only 48% of U.S. respondents trust businesses — down 10 percentage points since 2017. The 2019 version of the same report showed that respondents increasingly defined credibility based on relatability. Taken together, these insights suggest that people can’t relate to companies if they don’t find them credible. As a result, there’s a lack of trust.
Faceless executives are partly to blame for this erosion of confidence, but they can drive the solution. No one is better equipped to demonstrate how authentic an organization is (first to employees and then to customers) than the person in the top spot.
Now more than ever, executives need to be honest and empathetic. Leaders who strike the right balance between the two qualities aren’t just relatable, they’re inspiring. If you’re ready to become a more open, authentic executive while fostering a closer connection with those around you — even in a remote work environment — try these strategies:
1. Be available. You might not be with your employees in person, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be “with” them. Set aside a block of time each day when you’re accessible to your team, whether that’s by hosting Zoom video meetings or starting a new Slack channel. Those small interactions will reassure employees during these uncertain times and help you build stronger relationships.
2. Start conversations. When was the last time you talked to a co-worker about something besides work? If it’s been a while, they probably can’t relate to you on a personal level. Make it a point to bring up things other than the next deadline: kids, pets, hobbies, etc. Anything that demonstrates you’re more than a boss will make you appear more relatable and approachable.
3. Meet with everyone. Be careful about singling out and interacting solely with certain employees—everyone needs your attention at this time. Avoid the appearance of favoritism by reaching out to every team member, especially those who are less vocal on your messaging platform or during videoconferences. Remember that employees want to be seen and heard as much as you do. Being genuine and present with all associates will help them feel valued, heard and like they belong.
It’s human nature to work harder for leaders you like and believe in, which makes a compelling case for authenticity. When employees put their full efforts into an organization, customers notice. The most effective way to elevate your bottom line could be as simple as breaking out of your bubble.
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