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Fostering Authentic Leadership and an Authentic Workplace: How authenticity affects employee productivity and your business

On April 20, we hosted our second annual “Day of Understanding,” featuring conversations on important Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) topics for our staff from our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). The event was a phenomenal success and really worked to continue to foster a respectful and welcoming workplace for all at The Judge Group.

Our PRIDE group had a fantastic presentation on authentic leadership and code switching, the act of switching how one speaks, acts, and interacts with colleagues within the companies they work for. The conversation around authentic leadership really spoke to our employees and the leadership team. Not only because being an authentic leader leads to improved team performance and dynamics, but also because being an authentic leader helps diverse groups feel accepted and comfortable in their teams and supports employees feeling safe to be their authentic selves as well.

Authentic leadership in the workplace

While there is no clear definition of an authentic leader, Forbes describes an authentic leader as self-aware and genuine as well as mission-driven and focused on results. Additionally, authentic leaders lead with their heart, and focus on long-term performance. For ethnic and social minorities, having a leader who follows these ideals is one that allows them to be themselves daily while working to produce results in the long term.

There are several benefits of authentic leadership in the workplace:

  • Better relationships with colleagues
  • Higher levels of trust between leaders and subordinates
  • Greater productivity in the workplace
  • A more accepting and positive working environment
  • Employees feel empowered to be their authentic selves

Authentic leaders also often experience feelings of guilt. “Guilt-prone people tend to carry a strong sense of responsibility to others, and that responsibility makes other people see them as leaders,” says Becky Schaumberg, a doctoral candidate in organizational behavior who conducted research with Francis Flynn, the Paul E. Holden Professor of Organizational Behavior, both at Stanford University. The study found a distinct difference between leaders who felt guilt and shame. While guilt and shame might seem the same, authentic leaders will feel guilt, which is indicative of their feeling of responsibility for their team, as opposed to shame, which leads leaders to blame others for failure.

Understandably, a leader who feels responsible for their team is far more likely to be respected and liked as opposed to a leader who blames their team when expectations are not met. Interestingly, the study also showed that people who are prone to feeling guilt are far more likely to be successful leaders than those who are extroverted, a well-known marker of leadership. Finally, findings show that authentic leaders and their teams are far more likely to experience job satisfaction and a greater sense of commitment to their organization over time.

Fostering an authentic environment

Of all the benefits of authentic leadership, the greatest is the effect it has on teams and how authentic they feel they can be. The Harvard Business Review states, “When leaders are true to themselves and admit their mistakes or failures, it gives others permission to do the same, changing the norms of the workplace.” Indeed, studies find that employees who feel empowered to be their authentic selves at work report significantly higher job satisfaction, engagement, happiness at work, a stronger sense of community, more inspiration, and lower levels of stress.

When an authentic environment isn’t cultured, employees feel they must actively manage their behavior, emotions, perceptions of themselves, and outward appearance. Understandably, this puts an additional level of stress on the employees as they constantly check themselves in the workplace. Doing so also affects productivity as self-monitoring takes time and brainpower the employee is not putting towards work.

Combatting this is simple. Studies show, and Judge employees expressed during the PRIDE session, that simple moves, such as implementing a less restrictive dress code, encouraged employees to feel they could express their authentic selves. This is particularly important to the LGBTQ+ community who may feel they cannot dress at work as they identify and feel they must prescribe to traditional office looks according to gender. Though people of color also feel this pressure, especially as it pertains to hairstyle or cultural/religious head attire. Ultimately, employees must feel that authenticity is valued in the workplace for employees to feel they can truly be their authentic selves.

Benefiting from an authentic workplace

Fostering an authentic environment in the workplace means allowing employees the space and the support they need to feel comfortable expressing themselves authentically in whatever way that might manifest for them. Like we are doing at Judge, our Day of Understanding wasn’t designed to build a culture of understanding from the ground up. We are lucky to already have this type of environment. What we are trying to do is continue to support employees as they travel the path to their authentic selves.

This approach may seem unnecessary, but studies show that over 40% of employees need nine or more months in a new job to show their authentic selves at work. And for these employees, if authenticity is not valued in their workplace, they will actually show less of their authentic selves over time. In a way, we can think of this as employees retreating into their shells. On the face, while unfortunate, this might not sound detrimental to the business. However, over time employees who feel they must conform to survive in their workplace are less creative, strategic, and avoid sharing new and innovative ideas. As innovation is the name of the game for many industries, fostering conformity in the workplace as opposed to authenticity is severely detrimental to the long-term success of the business.

Creating an open-minded, accepting environment where employees feel empowered to share varying perspectives and ideas sets the foundation for an authentic workplace. Innovation and creative thinking will also be fostered in an authentic environment benefiting the employees’ success and job satisfaction and improving the business over the long term. At Judge, we are doing just that. We are committed to continuing to support our employees and foster their growth as individuals. Our employees’ unique perspectives and experiences bring variety and diversity to our projects, leading to far more successful outcomes that our leadership team appreciates every day.