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The subject of authenticity has been getting a lot of attention in leadership circles, and for good reason. As one of the 17 drivers of employee engagement, authentic leadership plays a prominent role in how people view their employers.

The challenge? Authenticity is often viewed as one of the most complex drivers to address. However, once you understand what it really means to create a culture of authenticity, it’s not all that difficult to achieve.

What is authenticity in the workplace?

Authenticity refers to employees’ sense that leadership is honest about the business and themselves. Put simply: When a culture is viewed as authentic, employees feel their leaders are being “real” with them.

On the other hand, when employees don’t feel authenticity at work they may doubt their leaders’ intentions and question their business decisions.

Psychologists say authentic leadership requires a great deal of self-reflection, and describe it as being composed of four distinct components:

  • Self-awareness of one’s own strengths, limitations, and values.
  • Transparency that involves being honest and straightforward with others.
  • Fair-mindedness in soliciting opposing viewpoints and avoiding hidden agendas.
  • Internalized moral perspective that consistently leads someone to “do the right thing.”

Authenticity goes hand-in-hand with trust, and can be strengthened by open and honest leadership.

Why authentic leadership is so critical

Studies have long shown how authenticity in the workplace impacts employee engagement, job satisfaction, and performance. It can be remarkably easy to overlook — a frightening prospect for employee and employer alike. Why? Because inauthenticity is the enemy of innovation and progress.

Think about it: When it’s obvious that someone’s not being open and honest with you, how do you feel? For most employees, this type of interaction makes for uncomfortable relationships. The manager who frequently says things he or she doesn’t really mean is going to breed mistrust and apprehension within the team. Whether through body language or inconsistent actions, employees will catch on to the disingenuousness. And when they do, they’re not likely to trust the boss with important information and ideas.

One of the most accurate portrayals of these consequences come from employee engagement specialist Kevin Kruse in Forbes:

“It continues to surprise me how many leaders attempt to be one way at work, while their ‘true’ personality emerges outside of work. Once a CEO reminded me, ‘Leadership is acting.’ And it surprises me when these same leaders seem shocked or confused when their employees don’t trust them, don’t like them, and can’t really wait to work elsewhere.”

So yes, authenticity is important. Every organization, regardless of industry or size, will benefit from people who inspire trust, confidence, and loyalty.

How to cultivate authenticity

No matter where your company stands on authenticity today, it’s a highly important engagement driver to measure for your future. At Emplify, we frequently advise organizations to incorporate authenticity in employee engagement measurements and analysis.

Once you know where your company currently stands on this engagement driver, the next step is to look for ways you can encourage leaders to be more authentic. Provide plenty of opportunities for people to express what they truly believe, fearlessly own mistakes, and comfortably share differing opinions. Once you begin to cultivate a culture of openness and trust, amazing things can happen for your growth.

Would you like to learn more about authenticity and the other drivers of employee engagement? Be sure to check out our Employee Engagement Trends Report. You’ll find in-depth information on each driver, as well as best practices and proven strategies you can use to begin cultivating a strong culture of trust.

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