Leadership Authenticity: Aligning Words with Values

Making Words and Actions AlignStrong relationships are all about authenticity.  The gap between what you say and what you do means all the difference between a trusting, positive, healthy relationship and a stagnant, putrid, festering one.  The analogies between individuals’ relationships and leader-follower relationships is often uncanny.

Too many companies place an over-reliance on spinning their image in a positive light, while their leadership practices and decisions increasingly betrays the underlying truth about the values of the organization.  Early in the dating game, people tend to do the same thing.  This may be one reason people feel so duped when they begin to realize who the real person is under the superhero cape or sequestered in a company’s executive suite.

When companies paint themselves as benevolent employers, but fail to fulfill their end of the social-economic contract, their reputations are quickly sullied.  Potential employers quickly turn from eager suitors to reluctant skeptics, only willing to take a job as a last resort.  That’s hardly an enviable situation for any organization, and typically spells the begin of the escalating plunge into obscurity.

So, why is it so hard for organizations to be authentic with employees?  It’s not a message well received by many an executive group, but the answer is quite simple.  Authentic leadership is easy if actions align with executive values.  If that alignment is lacking, it’s quickly and painfully obvious.  The actions and policies of the organization will not match up with the expressed goals.

Some examples may be helpful…..

  • If you have a dedicated talent management unit in your organization, but fail to manage talent in a way that retains and develops your best and brightest, employees will rightfully accuse you of being inauthentic.
  • If you tout the competitive advantages of your sales unit, but support sales management at the expense of your actual sales people, you will lose credibility with your company’s life blood.
  • If you claim the need for layoffs and expense reductions, yet executive bonuses remain at the six and seven figure levels, executive commitment to the “greater good” will surely be questioned (and rightfully so).

Leadership authenticity is easy to achieve.  So much so, that’s it’s baffling when it is lacking in an organization.  It’s not about promising great things to customers and employees.  It’s not about being “good” to employees.  It’s simply about ensuring your words match your actions.  Even if your actions are perceived to be negative or painful given the current economic situations, if they match the words and messages you communicate, you will always be viewed as authentic.  Individuals may disagree with your course of action, but they will respect you for matching your leadership direction with your values.

Leadership direction almost always matches underlying values.  It’s just that the underlying values don’t always mirror value statements.

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